4 Best Practices to Ensure Immigration Compliance

Nov 8, 2017

Tapping into the global workforce – and sending employees to offices around the world – can be a financial boon in many industries. But whenever business crosses national borders, it also increases in complexity and introduces new rules businesses must follow.

Among the challenges of running an international business is ensuring immigration compliance in all countries where you operate. Obviously, that is a complex and ongoing project, but a lot of immigration compliance boils down to these four best practices.

1. Stay abreast of new policies

In April, the Trump administration announced it would take a “more targeted approach” to enforcing immigration compliance. A few days later, it issued an executive order announcing a “hiring and buying American” policy.

While this administration has gotten plenty of attention for its proposed immigration policies, changes happen under every administration: In 2009, USCIS introduced unannounced workplace inspections as part of enforcement for certain types of visas. In 2014, the agency expanded the types of visa holders eligible for those inspections.

Whether a new policy updates hiring requirements or changes the documentation you’re expected to keep on file, it can have a material impact on your company’s legal compliance. To ensure you’re never blindsided by penalties for not complying with a regulation you didn’t know existed, it’s best to have a point person on staff (and legal counsel on hand) to make sure you’re always up to date on paperwork, documentation, eligibility guidelines, and more.

If you don’t have in-house staff who can handle these issues, another option is to work with a vendor that offers tools and resources to ensure you’re up-to-date on the latest changes to immigration law. It’s much easier to make small adjustments throughout the course of the year than to scramble to overhaul your system in a crisis.

2. Treat global employee management as an ongoing process

Managing a global workforce is tricky – no two ways about it. Underestimating the time and energy required to maintain worker status is a recipe for disaster. Between maintaining visas, staying ahead of renewals, ensuring that documentation is up to date and easily accessible, planning for inspections, and everything else, keeping track of your global employees can be a fulltime job.

Too often, though, companies don’t appreciate the amount of work that goes into maintaining a global workforce until it’s too late – they’re facing an inspection they aren’t prepared for or even fines and other penalties for not keeping their documentation in order.

The best way to avoid problems and ensure positive outcomes is to accept that managing foreign workers is an ongoing task – not something you can set and forget. Make sure part of your HR team is dedicated to staying abreast of what’s required for foreign workers so they can keep the company on track to stay within the law.

Make sure, too, that you provide the time and resources necessary for HR professionals to give global employment issues the attention they deserve; otherwise, handling the thorny issues of immigration in the workplace could become a hot potato nobody is eager to hold for very long.

3. Understand the impact of structural change on immigration requirements

Any structural change at the corporate level can impact how you’re expected to manage foreign employees (and American employees working abroad) and impact the documentation you are required to file and maintain. Potential changes to watch out for include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Restructuring
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Spinoffs
  • Stock and asset acquisitions
  • Consolidations
  • Name changes
  • Relocations
  • Bankruptcies
  • Layoffs
  • Reorganizations
  • Downsizing

As you proceed through any of these changes, make sure you have a plan in place to manage and update documentation for all visa holders internally, as well as with the appropriate government agencies.

Be sure to include your legal counsel as you do this, giving them as much information as possible about the change. The details of the deal in question will determine what action you’re required to take. If you don’t take any action, it’s possible that employees’ work authorization will lapse or terminate, which means you’ll risk losing them. It could also mean fines and other penalties, as well as greater regulatory scrutiny around future business modifications.

4. Have a written plan in place for inspections

Since 2009, workplace inspections have been part of the USCIS’s immigration enforcement actions. And since earlier this year, the agency has noted that it will target inspections to those companies most likely to be in violation of part of the code (e.g., companies with a high ratio of foreign-to-native-born workers).

In addition to USCIS inspections, DOL and ICE may also come for a visit. In any case, if you’re unable to provide documentation that you’ve followed the law – or if you’re actually out of compliance – your workers’ visas can be revoked and your company’s ability to sponsor foreign national employees in the future could jeopardized.

To ensure you’re not caught off guard by one of these visits, create a written plan for how you’ll handle each. This plan should include:

  • A point person (and a backup) tasked with interacting with the inspector.
  • A single, easy-to-access location where all relevant documentation is stored.
  • Education of all employees, especially visa holders, about what the process might entail.
  • A consultation with legal counsel to ensure you’re properly prepared.

An Ounce of Prevention

While the consequences of violating immigration and visa requirements can be severe, they are also avoidable. Understanding what’s expected of you and being diligent about following rules can ensure that your employees and your company are able to do the work they planned to do.