In early April, USCIS announced its intention to take a “more targeted approach” towards employers of the popular H-1B holders in its petition verification site visits. And, on the same day, the U.S. Justice Department made it very clear that companies should take care to avoid discriminating against American workers in the hiring process, an act that the visa petitioning process and the compliance reviews are meant to curb. The new administration’s spotlight on immigration, particularly on the H-1B visa, has clear implications: Be in compliance with U.S. immigration laws or face severe penalties. Part of compliance may mean passing a random compliance review, which includes USCIS site visits.
It’s important for businesses to know just how USCIS chooses which sites to visit, what to expect during a site visit and how to prepare employees for the unannounced arrival of an immigration inspector.
How USCIS site visits are chosen
The Administrative Site Visit and Verification program was started by USCIS in 2009 as an extra step to verify certain immigration petitions. USCIS site visits are selected at random and are carried out by authorities from the Fraud Detection and National Security directorate (FDNS) as part of a broader compliance review. During these visits, FDNS collects information that informs the reviews of particular petitions to ensure they’re complying with U.S. immigration laws.
In 2014, the program expanded from reviews of just H-1B visas to include L-1 petitions as well. And, even though the number of inspections FDNS completes each year hasn’t changed – currently, that number is at 25,000 – suddenly, visa holders and their employers in this category are under the microscope and may need to be prepared for a site visit.
What to expect during USCIS site visits
Generally, FDNS compliance review site visits are unannounced. They are also voluntary (though strongly encouraged, since refusing to participate could result in further investigations). Before the site visit, the inspector will verify, first, that your organization is legitimate, as represented in the visa petition. He or she will also need to verify all the information on record, including any supporting documents that may have been included with a particular petition.
Once on site, the inspector will likely take photographs of the workplace, review documents, and interview co-workers of the employee in order to verify information in the initial documentation, including salary, responsibilities and work location and workspace. At some point, the inspector will interview the employee under review to verify identity and ask questions, looking to for basic information, such as how long the employee has worked there, how much he or she makes and what his or her responsibilities are. These questions are typically straightforward and not very invasive.
Following the site visit, the inspector will draw up a Compliance Review Report based on his or her observations, and submit that to USCIS. USCIS makes a final decision as to the compliance of the petition under review.
How to prepare for USCIS site visits
The best way to get all your employees, at all branches of the company, aligned on how you want to handle a site visit is to create and disseminate a company-wide policy. Employees should have a designated representative who will be the point person should an inspector arrive on location. The designated point person should know who to call and where to escort the inspector upon arrival. All H-1B petitioners should also be aware of the possibility of site visits and how to manage them.
Being prepared with an action plan that’s thorough and widely understood across all facets of the company can help make a site visit, and the entire review, go smoothly. In addition, keeping documentation for each visa petition can have the same effect. Rather than nervously skimming through emails to prove compliance, a simple, one-stop online platform can give you the power to see every document you need as soon as you need it.
For more information on how to prepare for USCIS site visits, watch our webinar: On the Record: Maintaining Immigration Compliance for Your Organization.