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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. Owner of Queens Medical Employment Agency Indicted for H-1B Visa Fraud Conspiracy

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law




    A federal grand jury has returned an indictment against Rena Beduya Avendula, the owner and managing executive of Professional Placement & Recruitment, Inc. (PPRI) of Woodside, NY, charging her with a visa fraud scheme that brought Filipino citizens into the United States for financial profit. Avendula is charged with five counts of visa fraud and with conspiring to defraud the United States, commit visa fraud and illegally bring undocumented individuals into the United States.

    As alleged in the indictment, Avendula engaged in a scheme from October 2009 to February 2015 to bring Filipino citizens into the United States illegally by fraudulently claiming to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the foreign nationals would be employed in “specialty occupations,” thereby qualifying for H-1B visas. Avendula used PPRI to further her visa fraud scheme. PPRI specialized in providing nursing care to elderly patients. Avendula, in an effort to secure some of the limited number of H-1B visas that are available each year, falsely stated that foreign nurses would be working in specialized nursing at prevailing wage rates. In fact, they were going to work as licensed practical nurses or RNs at significantly lower rates of pay, mostly at nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. Generally, registered RNs typically do not qualify as beneficiaries for H-1B visas.

    The H-1B nonimmigrant visa classification allows foreign nationals to enter the United States temporarily for the specific purpose of working for the employer in a “specialty occupation.” A “specialty occupation” requires certain specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s or higher-level degree for entry into the occupation within the United States labor market.

    As alleged in the indictment, PPRI sponsored dozens of fraudulent applications and profited from the filing fees she collected from the nurses and from the health care facilities that paid PPRI.

    If convicted, Avendula faces a statutory maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment for the visa fraud charges, and 10 years’ imprisonment for each foreign national she induced to reside in the United States in connection with the visa fraud conspiracy.
  2. ICE’s I-9 Audits Will Increase by 400% in Fiscal Year 2018

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law



    As I have discussed numerous times in this blog, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under the Trump administration, has significantly increased I-9 inspections/audits of employers to verify that their employees are authorized to work in the country and determine whether substantive paperwork violations have occurred. Now, we have statistics which substantiate the heightened activity of ICE in worksite enforcement.

    Between October 1, 2017, the beginning of fiscal year 2018, and May 4, 2018, there have been 2,282 ICE audits of employers’ I-9 forms while in the prior fiscal year, October 2016 and September 2017, there were 1,360 audits. Derek Benner, head of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit, said another nationwide wave of audits, like the ICE audits of 7-Eleven in January 2018, planned this summer, would push the total number of audits to "well over" 5,000 by the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2018. If so, that would be almost a 400% increase from fiscal year 2017 and highest number of ICE audits ever. ICE audits, as we know them today, started in George W. Bush’s administration. ICE audits previously peaked at 3,127 in 2013.

    According to Brenner, ICE has developed a plan to conduct as many as 15,000 I-9 audits a year if it can receive appropriate funding and support from other areas of the Trump administration. The plan calls for creation of an Employer Compliance Inspection Center to perform employer audits at a single location instead of at regional offices around the country. Benner said that putting up to 250 auditors in one center with the right technology and a team of attorneys to quickly levy fines would enable his agency to audit between 10,000 and 15,000 companies annually.

    Benner stated one of the goals of this proposal is to create a "reasonable expectation" among employers that they will be audited. "This is kind of our vision of creating this culture of compliance," he said. "I think it's a game-changer."

    The plan also proposes changing the manner of delivery of the ICE Notice of Inspection (NOI) from in person to email or certified mail. Furthermore, after an initial review, by electronically scanning the I-9 forms for suspicious activity, the most egregious cases will be sent to regional offices for more in-depth investigation.

    Benner said the agency will focus both on criminal cases against employers as well deporting employees who in the country illegally. The statistics show there were 594 employers arrested on criminal work-related immigration charges from October 1 to May 4, up from 139 during the previous fiscal year.

    The deportation numbers will certainly increase due to this worksite enforcement as ICE has begun to detain employees listed on the Notice of Suspect Documents. Prior administrations did not detain undocumented workers on the Notice of Suspect Documents which lead many undocumented workers to quit one employer and find work down the road with another employer. As Brenner and many other immigration officials have stated, hiring undocumented workers creates unfair advantages for companies, encourages people to come to the U.S. illegally, results in document and identity fraud, exposes workers to potentially dangerous conditions without proper equipment, and leads to failure to pay overtime pay.

    If the heightened I-9 audits by ICE frightens you, as it should, be prepared and conduct an internal I-9 audit under the direction or control of an experienced immigration attorney with expertise in worksite enforcement. If you want to know more information on employer immigration compliance, I recommend you read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
  3. DOJ and USCIS Formalize Partnership to Protect U.S. Workers from Discrimination and Combat Fraud

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law



    The Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that expands their collaboration to better detect and eliminate fraud, abuse, and discrimination by employers bringing foreign visa workers to the United States.

    The MOU will increase the ability of the agencies to share information and help identify, investigate, and prosecute employers who may be discriminating against U.S. workers and/or violating immigration laws. In 2010, USCIS and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division entered into an ongoing partnership to share information about E-Verify misuse and combat employment discrimination, and this MOU expands upon the two agencies’ existing partnership.

    To advance the goals of the Buy American and Hire American Executive Order, in 2017, the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ launched the Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative, which is aimed at targeting, investigating, and taking enforcement actions against companies that discriminate against U.S. workers in favor of foreign visa workers. Under this Initiative, the Civil Rights Division has opened dozens of investigations, filed one lawsuit, and reached settlement agreements with two employers.
  4. Indian Man Sentenced to Prison for Visa Fraud

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law



    Ramesh Venkata Pothuru, a former owner and operator of Virgo Inc. and Isync Solutions, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison following convictions for wire and visa fraud. The sentencing follows an investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

    The investigation disclosed that between 2010 and 2013, Pothuru collected over $450,000 in illegal filing fees and related expenses from more than 100 fraudulent visas and employer-sponsored green cards for nonimmigrant workers from his native India. Pothuru collected these illegal fees and expenses from the employees he sponsored for H-1B visas and green cards through direct payments to his personal bank accounts. He subsequently submitted false applications in which he did not identify the fees that he collected from the non-immigrant workers and swore that he did not collect.

    Under federal regulations concerning H-1B visas, employers are prohibited from taking payments from H-1B non-immigrant workers to cover the costs associated with filing fees, which fees are required by law to be borne by the sponsoring U.S. employer.
  5. DOJ Settles Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim Against UCSD

    By: Bruce Buchahan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

    The Justice Department, through the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER), has reached a settlement agreement with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). The settlement resolves the investigation into whether the University’s Resource Management and Planning Vice Chancellor Area (RMP) discriminated against workers in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) when verifying their continued authorization to work.

    The investigation concluded the RMP unnecessarily required certain work-authorized immigrants to re-establish their work authorization when their documents expired, based on the citizenship status of those individuals when they were hired. The anti-discrimination provision of the INA prohibits such requests for documents when based on an employee’s citizenship status or national origin.

    Under the settlement, the University will pay a penalty to the United States, train its RMP human resources personnel on the requirements of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements.

    Under the settlement agreement, UCSD will pay $4,712 in civil penalties for the alleged unfair documentary practices; post notices informing workers about their rights under the INA’s anti-discrimination provision; train its Human Resources personnel on their legal obligations to not discriminate by viewing a free online IER webinar presentation and reviewing the M-274 Handbook for Employers; review and revise, as necessary, any existing employment policies that relate to nondiscrimination based on traits or characteristics protected by law; and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements for two years.

    For answers to many other questions related to the IER, and immigration compliance, I invite you to read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book that I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
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