Effective August 1, 2016 the Department of Justice is assessing higher penalties for employers that violate immigration laws. These penalties cover violations that occurred after November 2, 2015. Specifically, the DOJ’s interim final rule increases penalties for a myriad of violations, including penalties for employing unauthorized workers and for technical Form I-9 paperwork violations. These increases are driven by the Civil Monetary Penalties Inflation Adjustment Final Rule which directs federal agencies periodically to increase their administrative penalties to account for inflation. With this increase, the minimum penalty for unlawfully employing a single unauthorized worker will increase from $375 to $539, and the maximum increases from $3,200 to $4,313. These fines apply to the employer’s first offense. For each additional offense, the penalty increases significantly and tops out at $21,563 per unauthorized worker.
The increases in penalties for Form I-9 paperwork violations are similarly stiff. The interim final rule increases the minimum fine from $110 to $216 per I-9 violation, and the maximum penalty increases from $1,100 to $2,156 for a single violation. Fines for I-9 paperwork violations are independent of any unlawful hiring violation. Since the I-9 fines apply to each discrete technical violation and increase with each additional offense, a growing business whose I-9 compliance process is out of compliance could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines if audited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor will also increase penalties for H-1B visa related violations. For example, misrepresenting material facts on the Labor Condition Application now carries a maximum penalty per violation of $1,782. In addition, an employer that displaces a U.S. employee in the period starting 90 days before and ending 90 days after it files an H-1B visa petition faces a maximum penalty of $35,000 to $50,758 per violation, if it does so in conjunction with certain willful violations.
Although these increases are touted as merely keeping pace with inflation, they are problematic for employers that have a poor track record of either ensuring their new hires are authorized to work in the U.S. or completing I-9 paperwork accurately for their new hires. Since these new penalties apply to violations that occurred as far back as November 2015, many in the employer community suspect that ICE has been delaying issuing fines for older violations until now, to recover the higher penalties. Also it is reasonable to anticipate that workplace audits will increase in number since ICE now has greater financial incentives to find employers out of compliance.
An audit with the assistance of counsel allows employers to detect and potentially correct any I-9 or other immigration compliance issues. It can also help to train the personnel responsible for immigration compliance, preventing errors in the future. For further information regarding how the ICE regulatory environment affects your business, recruiting, and hiring, and assistance with auditing your Form I-9 process, please contact Patrick W. McGovern, Esq., the Director of our Immigration Law Practice Group, at 973-535-7129 or email@example.com.
Allison Benz, a recent summer associate at Genova Burns LLC, assisted in the preparation of this blog post.