Immigration is a major topic of discussion for businesses owners, executives and their attorneys these days as lawmakers in Washington debate the merits of a sweeping plan to rewrite the nation’s laws.
Those revisions include updated employment verification forms, creating a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, and $46.3 billion toward securing the border with Mexico.
“We’ve been working with businesses in recent weeks on education and compliance with current immigration laws,” said Elizabeth Milto, senior executive counsel for the National Federal of Independent Business in Washington.
Milto said business owners keep asking if anything has changed or do they need to start doing something different when it comes to checking employees.
“The answer right now is no,” Milto said. “I understand why they ask. They are not following it minute by minute as we do in Washington.”
Most of the issues for business have centered around enforcement of immigration laws. She said both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations increased enforcement of not only immigration but other employment issues as well.
Milto oversees the NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center. There are two federal requirements for employers to comply with immigration laws.
Those requirements are I-9 forms and E-Verify. Two federal programs designed to verify if employees are eligible to work in the United States.
All employers are required to use the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9, which released an updated version in May. The revision date of the new Form I-9 is printed on the lower left corner of the form, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of DHS, oversees the Form I-9 program.
“Employers need to complete an I-9 form for every new hire,” Milto said. “There are no exceptions. Sometimes there is confusion. There are no exceptions, not even for your cousin Charlie or your daughter’s best friend who needs a job.”
She said there has been an uptick in I-9 audits in recent years. Generally because of limited resources, the federal government targets larger employers, but smaller companies do get audited.
Milto suggested small and large businesses in Las Vegas conduct self-audits.
“Employers need to be aware of the implications the proposed overhaul will have on their business,” Milto said. “All the talk has been about the amnesty provision, but there are things that impact employers.”
The U.S. Senate on June 27 passed the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” sending to the House where it remains stalled. The bill reforms virtually every aspect of the nation’s immigration law.
According to the bill, E-Verify would become mandatory for all employers. E-Verify is an Internet-based system that helps employers filter out undocumented immigrants from their pool of new hires.
The program started in 1996 with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Employers can submit potential employee’s Employment Eligibility Verification Form, or I-9, through this process and the Social Security Administration and the USCIS will match it to government records to determine whether an employee can work legally in the U.S.
Currently, it’s required for federal contractors and is voluntary in most states.
Nevada does not require the use of E-Verify under state law, while Alabama approved the background check in 2011.
State law in Alabama requires all businesses, public and private to use E-Verify. The penalty for businesses not complying with the E-Verify mandate is a suspension of their business license.
“It’s coming, but not yet,” Milto said. “In the Senate bill, E-Verify will become mandatory for all employers. It is something the NFIB has been pushing for.”
The bill in Congress gives businesses five years to enroll, depending on the size of their workforces.
The U.S. Citizenship and and Immigration Service provides a guide to immigration laws and regulations for businesses online. The federal law enforcement agency also offers E-Verify manuals and guides, as well as information about Form I-9.
The USCIS is at www.uscis.gov.
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