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Becoming Legal : A guide to the new immigration law in the workplace : Commonly Asked Questions

June 30, 1987

Employers and employees have raised a host of questions about the nation's complicated new immigration law. Times staff writer Stephen Braun posed some of the most common questions to William King, INS Western regional director for immigration reform, and Robert M. Moschorak, associate regional commissioner for operations.

Question: Let's start with the beginning. What must employers do to comply with the provisions of the law?

Moschorak: The new law, which addresses all new hires after Nov. 6, 1986, makes it a requirement that all employers ascertain whether or not the individuals that they are hiring have a legal right to be in the United States--either they're U.S. citizens or aliens who have a legal right to be here. That means the employers are required to do a check of that right to work in the United States and fill out appropriate documentation, such as the I-9 form for verification purposes, and they're required to keep that form on file and that form is subject to review by INS or the Department of Labor at a future date.

Q: Should employers only ask for the immigration status of those who they assume are immigrants or are they responsible for every one who works in their businesses?

King: Not at all. This I-9 verification requirement is an across-the-board thing. It does not relate to aliens, legal or illegal. What it means is that every applicant for a job in the United States from this point forward--Nov. 6--must be able to prove that he's lawfully authorized to work in this country, citizen or non-citizen.

Q: Is there any difference between how employer sanctions affect small employers, such as people who hire maids, and big companies that hire dozens of immigrant employees?

King: No, except in the case of an employer hiring a domestic on a sporadic basis--infrequent, nothing by schedule. Then they would be exempt from the I-9 provision, but anything scheduled or more than a sporadic hiring of an individual for work as a domestic would require the same I-9 verifications.

Q: But isn't it a lot harder to target small employers, such as a housewife who hires a maid, as opposed to a large factory?

King: Obviously, with the millions of employers in the United States, INS is very hopeful that through this intensive educational process that we're going through that each, each individual who can be classified as an employer understands his responsibility and makes sure that everybody has a desire to voluntarily comply with the law. I think voluntary compliance is the big key to success of the sanctions program.

Q: Is it going to be a lot harder for the INS to enforce the law as it pertains to employees who are paid under the table, such as some gardeners and restaurant workers or those who work for individual employers, such as domestics and handymen?

Moschorak: I don't think it's really going to make any difference. No. 1: INS, in the enforcement compliance area, will be looking at the I-9 forms and what type of documentation was presented to the employer and whether or not the employer did an adequate job of screening to ascertain whether or not the individual employee had a legal right to work in the United States. Whether or not the individual is getting paid under the table I don't really think is going to be an issue at all. In other words, if an employer is hiring illegals and paying them under the table and INS finds those people in the employer's employ, the first thing we're going to do is go to the employer and demand to see the I-9s and the verification process that the employer was required by law to go through.

Q: How does the self-certification program work?

King: The big date is Jan. 1, 1982, where individuals who have been in the United States since that date in illegal status, have the ability to apply for legalization now. Sept. 1 is the date by which all those individuals who have a right to apply for legalization must complete a self-certification form--no requirement is incumbent upon them that they present documentation to an employer. If they go to an employer prior to Sept. 1 and indicate that they are eligible for legalization, if they have in fact filed for legalization or will file . . . come Sept. 1, the employer is required to pull back that I-9 out of his records that indicated that this individual who had applied for employment made that claim and to ensure that the individual has work authorization granted by INS as a result of that alleged legalization application that was filed.

Q: What happens to a worker who hands in a self-certification form but is unable to file for an amnesty by Sept. 1?

Moschorak: The extension to Sept. 1 is a dead-end as of Sept. 1. There's no extension beyond that period of time. So a person who feels he's legalization-eligible--it's incumbent upon him to file that application, and get the required employment authorization prior to Sept. 1.

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