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If you are a business owner that employs immigrants, a surprise visit from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can be a nerve-racking experience to say the least. A corporate immigration audit can lead to fines or even criminal charges if problems are uncovered, or it can mean the termination of most of your workforce.

Any business is susceptible to corporate immigration audits, but there are ways to survive them.

Who gets audited?

ICE has greatly stepped up its enforcement of these audits throughout the tenure of the Obama administration through I-9 compliance regulation. The reasoning behind the audits is the belief that employers who are hiring undocumented workers are at least partially responsible for fueling the incentive for undocumented immigration.  Fairly or unfairly, these employers are being stereotyped as thrifty business owners who are trying to save money by hiring undocumented immigrants at lower wages than what legal US residents would work for.

For many employers, these stereotypes are not true, but they still must be on the watch for an audit regardless. There are plenty of business owners who collect all of the information that is necessary and treat all of their employees equally, but who do not realize that the employee information provided to them is fraudulent, potentially leading to penalties in the event of an audit.  On the other hand, if the business owner turns an employee away because he or she thinks information provided by a foreign employee could be falsified, he or she could be faced with discrimination charges. Either way, this can certainly devastate a business.

The best defense is a good offense

The best way to survive an audit is to be proactive – and that means being prepared and organized especially when it comes to documentation and processes. There is now an electronic program called E-Verify that business owners can use to check the validity of their applicant’s I-9 employment information. The use of this program is now mandatory in some states.  But even if you do not use E-Verify to double check employment eligibility, I-9s should be completed for all employees and retained for the appropriate amount of time.

Employers should also consider conducting random audits on themselves from time to time to be sure that they have all of their employees’ I-9 information. If there is information missing, it should be added, then initialed and dated at the time that it is added.

Be sure to document any and all steps you have taken to obtain the proper employment verification information. It is hard not to be sympathetic to the human aspect of these situations, but as the business owner, you must do your best to comply with the law and protect yourself, as well as the future of the corporation.

If you are unsure about any of the requirements, consult the professional legal guidance of an experienced immigration attorney as corporate immigration audits are not to be taken lightly.