Category Archives: immigration

Learning the Language

EnglishEmployers with hopes of maintaining a skilled U.S. workforce in the future would be wise to initiate English-education programs in the present, according to a just-released report from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

The study, which the Washington, D.C.-based think tank describes as “the first-ever metro-level analysis of limited English-proficient workers in U.S. metropolitan areas,” finds almost one in 10 adults of working age in the United States—19.2 million people between the ages of 16 and 64—lacks full proficiency in English.

Based on U.S. Census Bureau data culled from a 2012 survey, Brookings’ Investing in English Skills: The Limited English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas identified 89 of the most populous U.S. metro areas and ranked them for size and share of their population that is limited English-proficient (LEP) as well as for growth or decline in limited English-proficient population since 2000. The report also provides detailed characteristics of metro areas’ LEP workforce, including the languages they speak, the occupations and industries in which they work, employment rates, median income and educational attainment.

According to the study, metro areas with a high concentration of immigrants, especially metro areas in California and Texas, “dominate the list of metros with the highest share of their working-age populations that is LEP,” according to a Brookings statement. Among the top 10 metro areas studied, Miami is the only one not located in either California or Texas.

In addition to recommending increased funding from the Workforce Investing Act; targeted outreach and instructional innovation enabling LEP adults to access instruction at the worksite, online and by mobile device; the report urges employers to invest in English-education programs, particularly companies operating in industries with the highest numbers of LEP workers, such as manufacturing, food services, construction and the retail trade.

“English proficiency is the most essential means of opening doors to economic opportunity for immigrant workers in the United States,” says Jill H. Wilson, senior research analyst and associate fellow at the Brookings Institution, and author of the report, in a statement. “Yet access to acquiring these skills is persistently limited by a lack of resources and attention.”

In the same statement, Wilson theorizes that the price for failing to provide these workers with more opportunities to improve their English-speaking skills will only get steeper with time.

“Given the large number of LEP workers in the United States, and the fact that virtually all of the growth in the U.S. labor force over the next four decades is projected to come from immigrants and their children, it is in our collective interest to tackle this challenge head on.”

Employers’ ‘Scariest Issues’ in 2014

I don’t know how frightened you are by all these. I do know you’re aware of each and every one of them. But I thought I’d share them anyway.

465250769 -- frightenedWhat intrigued me about this free downloadable list of the 11 (not 10, mind you) Scariest Issues Employers Face in 2014 from XpertHR is how cleanly they’re all packaged. And the list itself seems pretty accurate as well: medical (and, yes, recreational) marijuana in the workplace, same-sex marriage, technology in the workplace, healthcare reform, immigration and Form I-9 compliance, misclassification of independent contractors, minimum wage and overtime violations, curtailing background checks, emerging protected classes and curbing workplace discrimination, employee leaves and reasonable accommodations, and expansion of “protected concerted activity.”

Whoever put this together knows a little something about HR leaders’ sleepless nights, I’m thinking.

I also like the way each topic is broken down into two parts: “The Issue” and “What an Employer Should Do.” Hey, those are certainly two of the most important points we need to cover in our features and news analyses here at HRE.

The same-sex-marriage section was especially helpful, laying out specifically how United States v. Windsor (in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional) impacts employers:

Following this landmark decision, both the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor adopted a state of celebration rule, meaning that a valid same-sex marriage from another state must be recognized for federal tax purposes in all states. Thus, even if an employee resides in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, that employer must comply with IRS regulations regarding the tax treatment of employee benefits. The DOL has pronounced that in the wake of Windsor, same-sex spouses are now eligible for the same benefits and protections as opposite-sex spouses under employer health plans, retirement plans and other benefits covered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Same-sex spouses are also entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act if living in a state recognizing same-sex marriages.”

Kind of wraps it up nicely. The advice to employers is what you’d expect, and what we’ve written about, but it’s still nice to see it packaged concisely as well:

Accordingly, employers should review their employee handbooks, policies and procedures — particularly pertaining to discrimination, benefits and leaves — and make any necessary revisions regarding the treatment of same-sex spouses. Further, employers should know what types of same-sex relationship their states recognize, the tax benefits provided to an employee’s same-sex spouse or partner, and whether the state follows or departs from federal law under Windsor.”

Also helpful, and in one place, is a chart listing where every state stands on legalized marijuana, same-sex-marriage recognition, minimum wage (with each state’s wage listed) and adoption of Ban-the-Box (criminal background) legislation.

Again, you may not learn anything startlingly new, but armed with brief rundowns and good advice on each of these “scary issues” might help alleviate some trepidation.

I know I plan to hang onto it for some handy frames of reference.

 

 

Sending IT Outsourcing Firms a Message

Corporations, particularly those seeking IT workers, have long complained about the limited number of H1-B visas available. You may recall the government ran out of these visas in less than a week in April. But the U.S. government would like employers in general — and IT outsourcing providers in particular — to know that if they’re thinking about getting around the system by obtaining visitor visas instead, they’d better think again.

119752726Bloomberg.com reports this morning that Bangalore, India-based Infosys has agreed to pay a $34 million penalty to the federal government over allegations that it was acquiring B-1 business visas in the place of H1-B visas, confirming that the Justice Department is serious about cracking down on employers attempting to get around the system. (The Wall Street Journal — subscription sitefirst reported yesterday that the settlement would be coming today.)

Infosys denies and disputes any claims of systemic visa fraud, misuse of visas for competitive advantage or immigration abuse. In a statement released this morning, it said …

Those claims are untrue and are assertions that remain unproven.  The company’s use of B-1 visas was for legitimate business purposes and not in any way intended to circumvent the requirements of the H-1B program. Only .02% of the days that Infosys employees worked on U.S. projects in 2012 were performed by B-1 visa holders.”

No criminal charges were filed against the company. Further, its eligibility for federal contracts and access to U.S. visa programs would not be affected by the settlement.

At $34 million, the settlement has no doubt gotten the attention of anyone considering getting around the system in this way.

Late yesterday I asked immigration attorney Carl Shusterman to share his thoughts …

“I’ve been doing immigration law for close to 35 years and I have not seen a company that has tried to bring people here on visitor visas and put them to work in this way,” he told me. “I’m sure there have been a few individual cases that have not come to my attention,” but a fine of this [magnitude suggests the federal government believed this was being routinely done].”

Shusterman adds that he’s surprised leaders of a company this size would think they could get away with something like this.

DHS Issues Post-Shutdown E-Verify Guidance

E VerifyOn the heels of its Oct. 17 announcement that E-Verify is again available for employers’ use, the Department of Homeland Security has released guidance and instructions to employers affected by the temporary shutdown of the employment eligibility verification program.

For instance, DHS has extended the usual three-day time period that employers are given, from the date of hire, to create an E-Verify case for new employees. According to DHS, employers have until Nov. 5, 2013 to create E-Verify cases for any employees hired during the shutdown. The agency has also directed employers to choose the “other” option from the drop-down list and enter “federal government shutdown” in the text field.

In addition, DHS has clarified that employers should add 12 federal business days to the date printed on any tentative non-confirmation referral letters generated for employees who received a TNC between Sept. 17, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2013, and were unable to resolve the tentative non-confirmation with either DHS or the Social Security Administration as a result of the shutdown.

With regard to employees who received final non-confirmations or no-shows because of the shutdown, DHS advises employers to close the case and select either “The employee continues to work for the employer after receiving a Final Non-Confirmation result,” or “The employee continues to work for the employer after receiving a No-Show result.” Employers should then enter a new case in E-Verify for that individual employee, reinstating the TNC process.

Finally, DHS directs federal contractors that missed E-Verify deadlines to follow the above instructions for resolving outstanding issues, and to communicate with their contracting officers regarding these instructions.

New Immigration Bill Proposes Big Changes

Capitol buildingAfter months of negotiation, the Gang of Eight has finally emerged to introduce its long-awaited plan to revamp U.S. immigration laws.

On April 16, the bi-partisan group of eight U.S. senators unveiled The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, which traces a 13-year path to citizenship for many of the 11 million individuals currently in the United States illegally, earmarks billions of dollars for border security and, of course, includes provisions with significant ramifications for the workplace.

First and foremost, the legislation contains stipulations that “would serve to increase employers’ access to authorized workers,” says Leigh Ganchan, a Houston-based attorney with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart.

For example, the Senate bill mandates that all employers use the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of new employees. Employers with less than 5,000 employees must phase in the system over a five-year time frame, while those with more than 5,000 must do so within two years.

The E-Verify program itself could be in for an overhaul as well, with proposed enhancements including a photo-matching tool and capabilities for employees to essentially lock their Social Security numbers in the system to prevent misuse. Non-citizens would be required to carry biometric work authorization cards, with pictures that employers would have to certify as matching with photos in the E-Verify system.

The bill also proposes increasing the cap on the number of H-1B visas from 85,000 to 205,000, and creates up to 200,000 “W visas” per year, issued for individuals to work in retail, construction, hospitality and janitorial jobs.

Immediate reaction to the bill—which the U.S. Senate could act on as early as this June—has been mixed. Opponents say the bill’s passage would add to an already crowded pool of candidates for American jobs. Business and labor groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, however, have thrown their support behind proposed efforts to usher in new visa programs for low- and high-skilled workers. President Obama, who on Tuesday described the legislation as a “compromise,” but containing “common-sense steps that the majority of Americans support,” has urged Congress to move swiftly.

The legislation’s fate remains to be seen, but its prospects for passage “seem very good,” according to Ganchan.

“With heavy hitters in the Senate such as Senator Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Reid (D-NV), Senate majority leader, committed to making time to get the immigration bill debated and voted on, the outlook is more favorable than we’ve seen in years,” she says. “Moreover, House leaders such as House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA) have signaled their readiness to engage in meaningful debate. With both parties and both sides of Congress working together, we might see results sooner than later.”

 

The Costs of Coming to America

As unions and business groups squabble over the number of H-1B visas, the fee of those visas have increased about 600 percent, according to news reports.

To pay for border security, a bill signed by President Barack Obama last week increases the H-1B visa fee from $320 to $2,320.

The fees seem to offend just about every constituency. The business community, especially Silicon Valley firms, say it will hurt their organizations’ ability to recruit top talent, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Indian outsourcing companies say the law specifically discriminates against them as “the carefully crafted criteria” in the bill seems to target them.

Outraged companies may bring a suit before the World Trade Organization, contending the fees are protectionist, while other experts say that, instead of being protectionist, the fees will actually lead to more outsourcing of jobs overseas.

The increased fees are designed to raise about $200 million a year. “The money raised is insigificant and the damage [to America’s reputation] is huge,” Vivek Wadhwa, an immigrations expert and professor, told the WSJ.

Vigilante Anti-Illegal Immigrationists?

Here’s a new twist in the ongoing fracas over immigration. Came across this piece in Thursday’s New York Times about residents of a small town in Nebraska who are so fit-to-be-tied over illegal immigrants in their midst that they forced a vote on the issue — fighting off challenges by some of their elected leaders all the way to the state Supreme Court.

Indeed, voters of Fremont, Neb., will be deciding this Monday (June 21) whether to ban businesses from hiring illegal immigrants and bar landlords from renting to them. Forget waiting for your governor to take the lead, eh? (Though it does appear Fremont’s proposal was written with help from an author of Arizona’s new anti-immigration law.)

Mind you, there are only about 25,000 residents in this 1850s-era railroad and farming town about 30 miles northwest of Omaha, and it’s nowhere near an international border. But those in favor of the bans say the number of Hispanic residents has climbed from 165 in 1990 to close to 2,000 now, and that many are living and working there illegally and are responsible for rising crime rates. They’re demanding that all Fremont businesses use the E-Verify system, something skeptics of the proposed law say most already do.

I’m wondering what the atmosphere at the polling places is going to be like on Monday. (I’ll try to keep you posted.) The story suggests many people in Fremont have stopped talking to one another because they’re not sure where everyone stands on this extremely heated and controversial — and, of course, very personal — issue.

More importantly, I’m wondering how far from this kind of development the rest of our American cities and towns might be.

Biometric Brouhaha Boiling On

Sentiments from either side of the proposed biometric national ID card debate are getting more and more heated, as this recent story from the Society for Human Resource Management underscores.

Aside from the politics involved in the idea of including the card in an immigration-reform bill, HR professionals are also “casting a wary eye,” according to the story. The ACLU predicts employers could pay as much as $1.2 billion to issue the cards and workers would have to pay $105 to $139 eachto obtain them. Expanded to the entire U.S. workforce, the program could translate to a cost of $285 billion.

ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese tells SHRM the bureaucracy behind such a program “would involve new government offices across the country, tens of thousands of new federal employees and the construction of huge new information-technology systems.”

Other opponents predict long document-presentation lines, inevitable information errors and bureaucratic red tape. Employers “would have to purchase expensive biometric readers, train HR workers to be immigration agents and endure delays in their workforce,” Calabrese says.

But nothing else could be as fraud-proof and sure to enhance homeland security and reduce the number of illegal immigrants living and working here, card proponents say.

My prediction: This cauldron has a heckuva lot more cooking time ahead.