U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently resumed employer worksite visits that were put on hold because of COVID-19 and social distancing precautions. This may pose challenges for USCIS and your company, as much of the workforce is still working from home or telecommuting from outside the office. That means employees should be prepared if immigration authorities knock on the front door of their residence.
A home visit from USCIS may seem unusual and alarming to employers and employees alike, but this is not a new practice for the agency—in the family-based immigration context, USCIS officers visit individuals at their homes as a matter of course to confirm the information listed on their petition or application.
Now is a great time for companies to assess their administrative site visit policies and ensure that employees who may be visited at home by an immigration officer understand what to do, whom to contact and what questions they may be asked.
Employers are usually given notice of a verification check—in the past by letter, but recently via email—although the agency has the authority to show up at a work location unannounced to speak with employees, such as the HR or company representative and the foreign national employee who are named in an immigration petition. Immigration verifications are performed by the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) unit of USCIS, and any employee receiving an officer at their home or worksite should promptly ask for a photo ID and a business card to confirm the officer is in fact from USCIS. For prescheduled or unannounced visits, the company is allowed (and recommended) to have an immigration attorney present.
Employees should know beforehand whom to call in the event of a site visit. During the visit, the FDNS officer may ask HR and immigration managers about its general business and its H-1B program, such as the number of H-1B employees and whether employees are sponsored for green cards, and ask about the individual H-1B employee, such as his or her job duties, work location and date of hire. Officers may also question the H-1B employee directly about his or her job, tenure at the company, immigration or visa status before obtaining an H-1B visa, education and work experience, and request documentation such as recent pay stubs, driver’s license and employee badge. More recently, we have seen FDNS officers question the employee’s work-from-home address, length of time the employee has been working from home, and other aspects of the employee’s telework. Finally, FDNS officers may ask to contact the employee’s direct manager separately to confirm the employee’s information.
Enforcement against employers who violate immigration rules has been a priority of the agency in recent years and is expected to continue. In 2018, USCIS beefed up its FDNS unit and began hiring new officers and amplifying targeted site visits with the aim of doubling the number of worksite visits to 20,000 per year and increasing that number every year. The agency has also increased its information sharing with other agencies, allowing USCIS to access information contained in filings with the Labor Department, such as the labor condition application that companies must file to sponsor an H-1B worker.
It is important that companies review and update their policies and procedures for responding to a USCIS site visit or verification and that employees who are working at home understand the protocols. Although COVID-19 continues to keep most companies’ offices closed or at limited capacity, the pandemic is not preventing USCIS from restarting its site visit program—even when the “worksite” is an employee’s kitchen table or spare bedroom.
Article by Kelli Duehning and Michael Sela, Special to California Business Journal