The Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) has been around for fifteen years but the first time most companies and attorneys hear of it is when officers show up to conduct an inspection on non-immigrant worker visas. Their site visits are unannounced and often send companies scrambling to figure out who the officers are, what their duties and authorities are, what the company’s responsibilities are, and how best to react. More challenging still is that many of the site visits are at what the government calls “end client locations,” which is to say that the person holding the visa in question does not work at the location where the corporate officers are based.
I served 23 years as an immigration officer and the last twelve of them were with FDNS. Seven of those years were as an FDNS supervisor and manager.
One of the most challenging aspects of that work was introducing FDNS. We spent substantial time educating folks about what our office did and the ways that we were distinct from the law enforcement agencies that we worked so closely with. So, what is it that FDNS does and how does it relate to the daily operations of petitioner – employers?
FDNS conducts inspections and administrative investigations on behalf of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It is with USCIS that a potential employer of a non-immigrant visa holder files their petition. FDNS conducts both random and targeted site visits to determine whether the underlying petition filing was valid and the petitioned-for employee is being employed in a manner and under conditions consistent with that filing.
These site visits have become more common and promise to grow in frequency in the next year so, what is the best way for an employer to respond?
The first question that needs to be answered is why the officers are there. It is most likely that they are following up on a petition that either the company or one of its contractors has filed, but it could also be that their investigation involves a company employee and not the company, per se. Additionally, FDNS conducts verifications for the U.S. Department of State to verify work offers for visa applicants overseas.
Most of the site visits relate to petitions filed by the company or a contractor and it is in everyone’s interest for FDNS to leave the site with all of the information they need to quickly close up their inquiry with minimal impact on the company’s operations. The officers will have a list of questions and documents and, though their inquiry can range farther than the prepared questions, it focuses on three general areas: scope of work, compensation, and control. The officers need to document what the employee does, how much they are paid, and to whom they report.
For petitioner organizations, all this information should be readily available and for end clients, obtaining a summary so that the site visits do not disrupt business more than is necessary can be helpful. At Green and Spiegel, we have significant experience with such site visits and can help companies craft contracts and policies which meet FDNS’ needs in the most efficient and cost-effective way. The goal is to minimize business disruptions while meeting responsibilities to clients and the government. A little bit of preparation and attention can have significant positive effect on the outcome.