Federal Agencies Significantly Increase Fines for I-9 Violations 

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Homeland Security and Justice have announced that significantly higher civil fines will be assessed against employers who commit Form I-9 and E-Verify violations. Most significantly, the range for fines for mistakes or omissions on the I-9 (i.e., paperwork violations) will increase by nearly 100 percent (from the former range of $110 to $1,100 per violation to $216 to $2,156 per violation). The increase in fines is effective as of Aug. 1, 2016, and applies to all violations that took place after Nov. 2, 2015.

This marked increase in penalties suggests that Immigration and Customs Enforcement may be readying to refocus on worksite inspections (which have decreased in the past two years). It is therefore more important than ever to review your I-9 and other immigration compliance policies and procedures to ensure that you have proper safeguards in place. An internal review to fix errors and suggest areas for improvement can go a long way to minimizing the imposition of these significantly increased penalties. Please contact us if you would like assistance with examining and assessing your I-9s and your employment eligibility verification policies.

Mobile Passport Control App Promises to Speed U.S. Re-entry Process for U.S. Citizens and Canadian Citizen Visitors 

Mobile Passport Control (MPC) is an app designed to expedite the U.S. entry process for U.S. citizens and Canadian citizen visitors. The app allows eligible travelers with a smartphone or tablet to submit their passport, photo and customs declaration form to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immediately upon landing and prior to inspection. Travelers then proceed to a specific CBP processing lane for their physical passport inspection. As the administrative tasks are performed by the traveler prior to the passport inspection, MPC promises to reduce passport control inspection time and overall wait times.

MPC was initially only available for U.S. citizens and Canadian citizen visitors arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. However, MPC has now been launched in several more U.S. airports, including New York (JFK), Newark, Washington Dulles, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Miami, Seattle-Tacoma, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale. Further information about MPC, including a link to the app, is available at http://mobilepassport.us/.

H-1B Employer Found Liable for Substantial Back Wages After Failing to Notify USCIS of Termination 

As we have advised in the past, a bona fide termination of an H-1B employee by an employer only occurs when the employer does all of the following: (1) gives notice of termination to the H-1B worker; (2) notifies U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCSIS) of the termination; (3) withdraws the underlying Department of Labor (DOL) Labor Condition Application; and (4) offers to provide the H-1B worker payment for transportation home. In a case published late last month, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) reminded us how important it is for employers to adhere to these steps. The employee in the case, who held H-1B status valid for a three-year period, was fired by his H-1B employer only two months into his authorized three-year stay. The employee subsequently claimed eligibility for back wages covering over two and a half years of time (from his time of firing until his time of departure from the U.S.), arguing that the employer’s failure to notify the immigration authorities of the termination, coupled with its failure to offer to pay return transportation costs, constituted a failure to effect a bona fidetermination. OALJ agreed with the employee, and ordered the employer to pay its former H-1B employee nearly $183,000 in back wages, plus interest.

This recent case reminds us that it is absolutely critical to follow the USCIS and DOL bona fide termination requirements following termination of an H-1B employee. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about these requirements.

Current Form I-9 Remains Effective Following Expiration Date 

USCIS has announced that until further notice, employers should continue using the current version of Form I-9 for employment eligibility verification. Although the Office of Management and Budget's control number expiration date of March 31, 2016, has passed, USCIS has confirmed that the form continues to be effective until further notice. We will provide updated information about the new version of Form I-9 as it becomes available.