The Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (“FDNS”) is part of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. FDNS’s mission is to detect, deter, and combat immigration benefit fraud. FDNS consists of approximately 650 Immigration Officers, Intelligence Research Specialists, and Analysts located in field offices throughout the United States. In addition, FDNS has contracted with multiple private investigation firms to conduct site visits on its behalf. In 2010, FDNS intends to increase its H-1B site audits to 25,000 – a fivefold increase. If you are unlucky enough to be chosen for one of those 25,000 site audits, what should you do? The American Immigration Lawyers Association has provided suggestions. This post contains some of those site audit basics and recommendations for preparation.
What Happens During an H-1B Site Audit?
H-1B site audits are usually unannounced, and take place at either the employer’s principal place of business or the foreign national’s physical work-site location. During the site visit the investigator will often ask to speak with the employer representative who signed the H-1B Petition. If this person is unavailable, the investigator usually requests, as an alternative, to speak with a Human Resources representative. During the audit, the investigator will typically ask specific questions to verify the representations made by the employer in the H-1B Petition, and may also request a tour of the facility. In addition, the investigator may ask to interview the H-1B employee about his/her job title, duties, responsibilities, employment dates, position locations, academic background and previous employment experience. Finally, the investigator may request the opportunity to speak with colleagues and/or managers of the H-1B employee.
How Should an Employer Respond to the Audit?
If an employer is subject to an unannounced H-1B site visit, the employer should immediately request that its immigration attorney be present. Even though the investigator will not reschedule a site visit so that an attorney may be present, the investigator will allow counsel to be present by phone. The employer should also have procedures in place to ensure that the investigator is directed to a designated company official. That designated official should request the name, title, and contact information for the site investigator. If the investigator introduces himself/herself as a contractor of FDNS, the employer’s representative should request a business card and confirm the investigator’s identity before permitting the individual to enter the employer’s premises, and before providing any detailed information about the employer’s business.
The employer should have at least two employer representatives accompany the investigator during the site visit. One representative should be the primary spokesperson on behalf of the employer. The second representative should take detailed notes of all information requested by and provided to the investigator, the locations visited, pictures taken, and/or any other relevant information from the site visit.
If the employer has strict policies regarding audio recording, photography, or video recording, the employer should advise the investigator accordingly. If the investigator requests information from the employer and the employer cannot provide accurate information without further research, the employer should so inform the investigator, and offer to contact the investigator as soon as the requested information is obtained. Under no circumstances should the employer “guess” about any information requested during the site visit.
Prepare for Site Visits Before They Occur.
An adverse assessment by the FDNS could be used to deny a petition, if the site visit occurs during re-adjudication, could result in a revocation of a previously approved petition in the post-adjudication process, and/or could be referred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) for further investigation. A referral to ICE could lead to civil or criminal penalties and prosecution. Given the potential consequences of an adverse audit, and because most H-1B site visits are unannounced, employers must be prepared for such visits well in advance.
Ensuring that required documentation is up-to-date and is easily accessible is the best way to prepare for a site visit. Specifically, employers should retain complete copies of all submitted I-129 petitions and supporting documents in confidential files, and be familiar with and ensure the accuracy of the representations made in the I-129 petitions. With respect to each filed H-1B Petition, the employer must maintain a public access file. Employers should also ensure they are in compliance with any mandatory employment posting obligations to prepare for the possibility the investigator will request a tour of the facility.
To better prepare the designated official for possible questioning by the investigator, consider staging a mock visit under the supervision and direction of counsel and subject to the attorney-client privilege. To prepare the beneficiary for potential questioning, employers can consider providing a redacted copy of the I-129 Petition and supporting documents to the beneficiary, including information on the nature of the job opportunity, the terms and conditions of employment, and the beneficiary’s education and prior work history. A mock interview of the beneficiary, with counsel present, can also be helpful.