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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. Tech Company Agrees to Pay $173,000 to resolve H-1B Violations

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law


    Cloudwick Technologies Inc., a California-based IT company, has agreed to pay $173,044 to 12 employees for violations of the federal H-1B foreign labor certification program after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). Additionally, Cloudwick has also enrolled in an enhanced compliance agreement requiring them to hire an independent third-party monitor to help ensure future compliance.

    WHD investigators found the company paid impacted employees well below the wage levels required under the H-1B program based on job skill level, and also made illegal deductions from workers’ salaries. As a result, some of the H-1B employees that Cloudwick brought from India with promised salaries of up to $8,300 per month instead received as little as $800 net per month.

    The Trump administration is touting this agreement as another victory for “Buy American, Hire American.” Susana Blanco, Wage and Hour Division District Director in San Francisco stated “The intent of the H-1B foreign labor certification program is to help American companies find the highly skilled talent they need when they can prove that a shortage of U.S. workers exists. The resolution of this case demonstrates our commitment to safeguard American jobs, level the playing field for law-abiding employers, and protect guest workers from being paid less than they are legally owed.”

    Cloudwick provides data solution services to major corporations nationwide, including American Express, Bank of America, Apple, Cisco, Comcast, Intuit, Safeway, Verizon, Visa, and many others.
  2. Metropolitan Concrete Corp. owes over $100,000 Due to Violations in H-2B Visa Program

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law



    Following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Metropolitan Concrete Corp. will pay $29,161 in civil money penalties and $73,647 in back wages to 15 employees working under the H-2B non-immigrant visa program.

    WHD investigators found Metropolitan Concrete Corp. classified the H-2B employees improperly as landscapers. The investigation determined the H-2B employees actually worked as cement masons and concrete finishers, and as such, the employer should have paid them at a higher prevailing wage rate. The company also should have advertised the position to potential U.S. workers using the correct job classification and prevailing wage rate, as required by the H-2B provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Failing to do so may have resulted in fewer U.S. workers applying for the positions than would have occurred if the employer advertised accurate information.

    Investigators also found Metropolitan Concrete failed to comply with requirements to pay the employees’ inbound transportation costs and to provide workers with the tools, supplies, or equipment they need to perform their job duties. The company also took impermissible deductions from workers’ pay for housing expenses. In addition to the payment of back wages, the Division assessed $29,161 in civil penalties.

    If you want to know more information on 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. Bay Area Restaurants Fear ICE I-9 Audits

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

    Restaurants in the Bay area of California are on pins and needles fearful of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) continued assault on California due to California passing laws viewed by ICE as restricting their ability to find and detain undocumented individuals. As discussed in prior blogs, ICE has been very active in delivering Notices of Inspection (NOI)/subpoenas to California employers.

    In an article in San Francisco Chronicle, https://www.sfchronicle.com/restaura...r-12823400.php, Gwyneth Borden, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, was quoted as stating “Everyone is fearing a day that ICE could show up at their doors.”

    When ICE conducts an I-9 inspection/audit, their agents show up at employer locations and serve a subpoena and NOI demanding the employer produce the I-9 forms of current employees, and often former employees, within three days of service. Often, these inspections are referred to as “silent raids” because they can have the same effect as a raid – loss of employees through ICE detention, terminations or quick abandonment of jobs.

    Nick Cobarruvias, co-owner of Son’s Addition, employs roughly 29 people at his restaurant. He said about two-thirds are immigrants. Cobarruvias said one employee recently failed to show up for work for several days. Both he and staff members tried contacting him to no avail. “It turned out he was picked up by ICE. Just wrong place, wrong time,” Cobarruvias said. “This is the new reality we’re dealing with. People talk about it like it’s theoretical, but this is really happening.”


  4. DOJ Settles Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim Against Themesoft Inc.

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

    The Department of Justice, through the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER), has reached a settlement with Themesoft Inc., a Texas-based company that provides consulting and staffing services to technology clients. The settlement resolves the IER’s investigation into whether the company discriminated against a work-authorized immigrant by refusing to allow him to continue in the hiring process, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

    The investigation, initiated based on a worker’s complaint, revealed Themesoft engaged in citizenship status discrimination against an asylee by refusing to process his application because he was not a lawful permanent resident, U.S. citizen, or H-1B visa holder. Asylees have permanent work authorization, like U.S. citizens, refugees, and lawful permanent residents, so employers are generally prohibited from discriminating against them based on their citizenship status. The investigation also revealed Themesoft requested specific immigration documentation from the worker because of his citizenship or immigration status even though the INA’s anti-discrimination provision prohibits such conduct.

    Under the settlement agreement, Themesoft will pay $12,000 in back pay to the Charging Party and offer him employment; $4,543.25 in civil penalties for the alleged citizenship status discrimination and the 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 Employer/HR Representative 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; for the next three years, provide the most current version of the Form I-9 Lists of Acceptable Documents to individuals in the same manner as it provides them with the Form I-9 to complete; and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements for three years.
  5. How does ICE Calculate Fines in an I-9 Inspection

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law


    As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducts more and more I-9 inspections (the ICE director stated they would be increasing by 400 to 500%), employers need to know how ICE calculates any fines assessed against employers. AILA’s I-9 Verification Committee, through Rick Gump and Eileen Momblanco, recently drafted a fine Practice Pointer, which I encourage AILA members to read. For non-AILA members, this article will discuss the same concepts.

    It begins for an employer when ICE serves a Notice of Inspection (NOI)/subpoena to review the employer’s I-9 forms as well as many other HR-related records. The NOI gives the employer three business days to provide the subpoenaed documents. The ability to receive an extension of time to provide the I-9 forms and other documents seems to vary with what ICE office you are dealing. I have been successful in receiving extensions in almost all NOIs, but I never ask for more than one week and usually only five days. After the ICE auditor reviews the I-9 forms, the employer will receive a series of notices – Notice of Suspect Documents and Notice of Technical and Procedural Failures are the most common notices.

    If substantive paperwork, hiring, or continuing to employ (H/CTE) violations are found, ICE normally issues a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF), although if the errors are less than 10%, ICE usually only issues a Warning Notice without a penalty. The fine/penalty amount in the NIF is determined by ICE attorneys and special agents in charge. Fines can be challenged by requesting review by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) within 30 days of receipt of the NIF. If litigated, the ALJ can adjust the fine amount.

    In November 2008, ICE issued a Memorandum, “Revised Administrative Fine Policy Procedures”, which contained a set of matrixes and required ICE to follow specific procedures for calculating paperwork and H/CTE fines. The Policy Procedures state the following to determine the level of fine within each matrix:


    • Use the number of violations of each type (paperwork or H/CTE) as the numerator and the number of total employees as the denominator; and
    • The percentage calculated above would be used to determine the percentage box in the fine matrix to start, and then fines could be adjusted up or down five percent for each of the five factors - business size, good faith, seriousness, employment of unauthorized aliens, and prior history with ICE/INS.


    However, ALJs can consider any factors it deems necessary to calculate an appropriate fine based on the case at hand. Cases with both paperwork and H/CTE violations sometimes produce higher fines for a greater number of paperwork violations compared to fines for a fewer number of H/CTE violations.

    To increase the level of penalties, ICE has begun to create a higher level of fine on each matrix by adding the number of paperwork violations to the number of H/CTE violations as the numerator, which in some cases dramatically increases the level of the fine in each matrix. Here are two examples:


    • If you have 100 employees with 10 substantive paperwork violations and 20 H/CTE violations, you add 10 + 20 = 30 to calculate 30% violations for each matrix. This would lead to a fine of $60,270 using the 2017 matrixes.
    • If you have 100 employees with 10 substantive paperwork violations and 20 H/CTE violations, you add 10/100 = 10% for paperwork and 20/100 = 20% for H/CTE violations for each matrix. This would lead to a fine of $40,560 without any aggravating or mitigating factors applied.


    In other words, instead of taking the number of paperwork violations and dividing them by the
    number of employees, and then calculating the H/CTE violations the same way, ICE adds the
    number of paperwork violations to the number of H/CTE violations when calculating the
    violation percentage from each matrix. This is resulting in a higher fine based on the matrix
    percentage of violations for each of the paperwork and H/CTE violations.

    ICE has defended this calculation method by pointing to language in the 2008 fine policy procedures, “The recommended base fine amount is determined by dividing the number of ‘knowing hire,’ ‘continuing to employ,’ and substantive verification violations by the total number of Forms I-9 presented for inspection to determine a violation percentage.”

    However, as the Practice Pointer states:
    On the next two pages, ICE instructs agents to “divide the number of ‘knowing hire’ and ‘continuing to employ’ violations by the number of employees for whom a Form I-9 should have been prepared to obtain a violation percentage” and to “divide the number of substantive violations by the number of employees for whom a Form I-9 should have been prepared to obtain a violation percentage.” Each instruction is paired with a separate fine matrix and no other ICE issued documentation instructs agents or attorneys to add the violations together. ICE’s I-9 inspection webpage also makes no mention of the double-dipping method of fine calculation.

    In evaluating NIFs, attorneys for employers should ask these questions:
    1. Are the fines calculated within the confines of the statute as updated by DOJ?
    2. What baseline and method did ICE use to calculate the fine in the instant case?
    3. What factors were used to aggravate or reduce the level of the fine?
    4. Were the factors appropriately used?
    5. Did ICE apply the 5% enhancement for employment of unauthorized aliens to only those violations as opposed to across the board?
    6. Did the NIF miscalculate the fines by double-counting violations? And
    7. Did ICE make other errors in its calculations?

    After evaluating these issues and trying to negotiate a settlement, one must assess the propriety of settling with ICE versus challenging the fine with an OCAHO ALJ.

    If you want to know more information on I-9 penalties/fines, 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.
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