Immigrant employment laws regulate the employment of non-citizens in the United States. This is a very broad area of law that covers requirements for both foreign employee, as well as the domestic employers hiring immigrants. Such laws deal with issues like:

  • Work visa requirements and applications for foreign nationals wishing to travel to the U.S. for the purpose of employment;
  • Restrictions on the number of work visas that can be issued each year (these are called “quotas”);
  • Requirements and guidelines for employers hiring non-citizens; and
  • Penalties for violations of immigration and/or employment laws.

There are many different categories for temporary immigration based on employment.  Some common fields of employment for immigrants include: construction, education, agriculture, services industries, and various professional fields and practices.

What is an Immigrant Worker’s Permit?

A worker’s permit, or work permit, is a legal document verifying that a person is legally allowed to work in the United States. Under state and federal laws, most adult citizens are not required to obtain a work permit in order to begin working.

However, under federal immigration laws, some alien workers who travel to the U.S. under an employment visa may be required to obtain a workers permit.

How is an Immigrant Worker’s Permit Obtained?

For non-citizen workers, a workers permit is usually obtained through the USCIS office through an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Filing Form I-765 usually begins this. EAD’s are generally temporary and only valid for up to 1 year at a time. In some cases, the EAD filing is part of the overall employment visa application process.

Three different categories of persons may be eligible for workers permits. These include:

  • Persons who have authorization to generally work in the U.S. as a result of their non-immigrant status (Category 1);
  • Persons who are authorized to work for a specific U.S. employer as a result of their nonimmigrant status (Category 2); and
  • Persons in a specific category which requires filing of an EAD (Category 3).

The application for employment authorization may entail slightly different details for each category. You may need to consult with a legal expert for exact requirements for your particular situation.

What Should Immigrants Know About Employment in the U.S.?

First of all, foreign nationals who are applying for employment-based visas should understand that the application process is very extensive. It can often take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years.

The applicant will be required to submit many different documents in addition to standard travel documents such as passports. For example, they may be required to provide proof of their previous education, employment, and tax information.

What are Immigrant Worker Rights?

Immigrant workers who are in the U.S. under a valid employment visa and work permit generally have similar rights to any other workers in the country.  In fact, due to their background, they may also have specific rights that protect them from issues like harassment and employment discrimination against immigrants.

What Should Employers Know Before Hiring Non-Citizens?

In addition, the employer who is sponsoring the immigrant for work in the U.S. needs to provide proof that the foreign worker is qualified to fill the job description, and that the job is not currently being filled by domestic employees.

This process is known as “Alien Labor Certification”; it can take a lot of time because the employer needs to provide immigration authorities with statistics and trends for the employment rates in their field.

The employer needs to show that the immigrant employee will be filling a valid work position in the economy that basically can’t be filled otherwise. It is generally not acceptable for the employer to create a job position or “invent” one simply for the purposes of petitioning someone to travel to the U.S.

Knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant is a serious offense, and can lead to heavy legal penalties for the employer.

How Can Employers Verify if an Employee is Eligible to Work in the U.S.?

Employers can verify employee’s eligibility to work in the U.S. by verifying their employment through E-Verify. By law, all employers must complete Form I-9, “Employment Eligibility Verification Form.” Form I-9 must be completed by the employer and employee once the employee is hired for pay.

Information from the Form I-9 is then entered into the E-Verify database. The E-Verify system will then run a comparison between the Form I-9 and the employee’s immigration information from other government records.  

What are Some Penalties for Violating Immigration and Employment Laws?

There are various penalties associated with violations of immigration/employment laws.
For the immigrant, these may include:

  • Removal or deportation;
  • Charges on one’s record;
  • Negative effects on work visa status; and/or
  • Negative effects on future ability to become a citizen.

Hiring illegal immigrants can lead to many severe consequences, such as:

  • Criminal and civil fines; and/or
  • Loss of business licenses.

Most fines are broken down to the following:

  • First offenders can be fined $250-$2,000 per illegal employee.
  • For a second offense, the fine is $2,000-$5,000 per illegal employee.
  • Three or more offenses can cost an employer $3000-$10,000 per illegal employee. A pattern of knowingly employing illegal immigrants can mean extra fines and up to six months in jail for an employer.

It’s important that both employer and employee verify work eligibility requirements. Recent programs such as the E-Verify computer system have made it more difficult for both employers and employees to evade immigration laws. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With Immigrant Employment Laws?

Immigrant employment laws are enforced very strictly You may wish to hire an immigration lawyer if you or one of your loved ones needs assistance with an immigrant visa application. Your attorney can assist you with the various laws and regulations that apply to your situation. In most cases, an attorney is needed for applications as well as appearances before an immigration judge.