The Daunting Task of Compliance in Work Authorization and Visa Management

In 2017, a Chicago bakery, known for making Little Debbie snacks, lost almost 800 workers when it was discovered in an immigration audit that the workers had used stolen or fake IDs to get hired. Facilities were closed, as they scrambled to hire replacements. Revenues dipped so severely that the bakery was eventually sold.

Just last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 280 employees at a technology repair company in Collin County, Texas, on charges of working in the United States illegally. It’s the largest work site raid in the country in more than a decade, according to a Homeland Security Investigations official. ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division received tips that the company may have knowingly hired undocumented immigrants and that several workers were using fraudulent identification documents. Hiring irregularities found during an audit of the company’s I-9 forms confirmed those tips.

There is sometimes a difficult challenge for companies who need workers, but don’t have access to the workers who can complete the work. No matter your opinions on the immigration debate that is at the fore-front of our national discussion, none of us can deny that our immigration laws need revising and updating to protect American interests, the immigrant workers who are coming into the US looking for opportunity, and our businesses.

There are many companies who roll the dice, hiring illegal immigrants who do not have the proper documentation to support their employment in the USA. While there are a myriad of issues associated with this practice, the first being that it’s illegal, there are also many workers in the US workforce who are in the country legally, and who have every right to work.

For the legal immigrant workers who contribute at all levels of business, and in various niches, there is a responsibility to protect their working status, while also protecting the interests of their respective companies. Compliance standards require that work authorizations and visas be kept up-to-date, avoiding massive fines, and of course the extreme images of ICE showing up at company locations to detain immigrants who are in the country illegally.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center estimated there were 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S., making up about 3.5 percent of the population. This includes those who entered without permission and those who overstayed a visa. Undocumented workers make up about 5 percent of the U.S. labor market. 8 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. are of working age, according to Pew.

In a 2017 study by the Center for Migration Studies, a nonpartisan think tank, their report estimated visa overstays in 2014 accounted for 42 percent of the total undocumented population, or about 4.5 million people. It also projected that overstays made up about two-thirds of the total number of people who became unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. that year.

So while the spotlight is on illegal immigration, there is also a very real challenge with those workers who entered the US legally, but have overstayed their visas. The management of these documents can be a tremendous challenge for HR and company leadership, especially in businesses that have a large contingency of immigrants.

Record-based solutions (Email, PDF, file-sharing, spreadsheets) create gaps when trying to maintain compliance on work authorization and visa management. Unless there is consistent review of records, visas will expire, unnoticed, leaving the company and employee open to major legal issues, and expecting your employees to be responsible to maintain their own visa status puts your business in unnecessary risk.

Content-centric systems that employ intelligent automation monitor all expiration dates and automatically queue up any required forms and documentation required to remain compliant. These workforce management solutions push the notices to everyone who needs to know, assuring that visas are renewed and documents are kept up-to-date.

While there are numerous challenges to the immigration issue in our country today, it’s important that businesses leverage the technology that is available to assure compliance in maintaining worker documentation and visa management.