As the government continues to focus on strengthening the tools it offers to help prevent the knowing hire of unauthorized workers, employers who are serious about workplace compliance may consider joining the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) IMAGE Program. The program will not be right for all employers, but it has some benefits discussed below.

IMAGE, which stands for ICE Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers, is actually a membership program that ICE created in 2006 to prevent the knowing hire of unauthorized workers through the promotion of ethical business conduct and self-governance by employers.

IMAGE takes compliance a step beyond the more well-known E-Verify Program, which is simply an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s I-9 Form to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records.

IMAGE requires employers to use E-Verify, but they also must submit to an I-9 inspection as part of the certification process and commit to following the IMAGE Best Employment Practices. These include: using the Social Security Number Verification Service for wage reporting; making good-faith efforts to verify the names and Social Security numbers of the current workforce; establishing written hiring and employment eligibility verification policies; creating an internal employment verification training program; requiring that verification be conducted only by adequately trained individuals; performing annual I-9 audits; establishing a procedure for reporting potential criminal misconduct in the verification process; and ensuring that any contractors and/or subcontractors also have employment eligibility verification compliance procedures in place.

IMAGE participants are publicly recognized by ICE as compliance role models when they join the program. Also, once the initial I-9 inspection is completed, employers are not subject to a subsequent inspection for two years. In addition, fines may be mitigated or waived if violations are discovered on fewer than 50 percent of the employer’s I-9s, and employers also are given time to resolve discrepancies discovered during the I-9 inspection.

While IMAGE may not be the right choice for every employer, the growing use and acceptance of E-Verify, coupled with increased I-9 inspections, make it a logical next step in the employment eligibility verification compliance arena for employers who have a strong commitment to highlighting the importance of immigration compliance in the workplace. Even employers who do not join IMAGE would clearly benefit from instituting the IMAGE Best Employment Practices. See this previous issue of the Labor And Employment Law Weekly Update (Week Of March 15, 2010) for additional information on I-9 audits.