Immigrant workers and foreign investment are key pieces to the U.S. and Tennessee economies. As of 2010, immigrant workers earned a whopping $1.1 trillion nationally. Roughly 200,000 were working in Tennessee as of 2013.
Considering the economic impact immigrant workers have, it’s critical that business leaders who employ them stay abreast of laws and regulations affecting immigrant workers. Two recent developments to pay attention to are the renewal of the EB-5 program and a new U.S. Justice Department rule covering immigrants during the hiring process.
The EB-5 program provides a quicker path to citizenship for foreign investors who invest between $500,000 and $1 million in a business that eventually employs at least 10 American workers in economically depressed areas of the United States. Despite the noble intent of the program, it has been marred by instances of investments in wealthy areas and fraud.
Several EB-5 investors have put money into high-end real estate projects in New York, Las Vegas and Miami as opposed to more economically depressed areas. Moreover, some middlemen, people who help foreign investors find projects and businesses in which to invest, have defrauded foreign investors out of millions of dollars.
The EB-5 program was set to expire on Sept. 30, but was extended without changes through Dec. 9. If Congress renews the program, look for changes aimed at curbing the program’s problems, such as narrowing the language to ensure investments go to economically disadvantaged areas.
Businesses that employ immigrant workers need to be cognizant of a recent rule change by the justice department meant to prevent discrimination during the onboarding process. Like U.S. citizens, immigrant workers must fill out an I-9 Form when they hire on to a company attesting that they have the right to work in the United States. The new employee must present documentary proof that they can legally work in the United States.
This proof can be any one of the documents listed in List A on the back on the I-9, or a combination of two documents on List B and List C. The new employee can choose which document to show as documentary proof. The employer cannot reject a document that is on the list, nor can the employer limit the types of documentary proof it will accept.
The old rule only allowed the justice department to take action against a company if it were found to be committing documentary abuse by requesting or denying certain documents as documentary proof with the I-9 Form. Documentary abuse means the employer treated an immigrant worker differently with the intent to cause harm.
Under the new rule, the justice department can take action against a company for an unfair documentary practice. An unfair documentary practice occurs when an immigrant employee is treated differently than other workers in regard to which documentary proof is accepted by the employer, whether or not there was intent to harm the immigrant employee.
Michael Beehan is an immigration and personal injury attorney at Fox and Farley. This column is provided through the Knoxville Bar Association, your trusted source for lawyer referrals. The KBA is a nonprofit corporation that offers community service programs such as the Lawyer Referral & Information Service, speakers’ bureau and public education programs.
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