Immigration reform Featured

11:41am EDT March 11, 2004
On Jan. 7, 2004, President George W. Bush announced a new immigration reform proposal offering a safe and legal working environment for foreigners currently employed in the United States without proper documentation.

Undocumented foreigners who pay a one-time fine and register with the temporary worker program will be given the chance to earn better wages, be protected by fair labor laws and receive authorization to travel freely back and forth from their home countries. The temporary worker program would ultimately be a way for unskilled workers to gain entry into the United States for legal temporary employment, with the potential to gain permanent residency.

Benefits to the United States

The Bush administration emphasizes that the temporary worker program will create a more prosperous economy. It will create an efficient system to match willing workers with hiring employers quickly and simply, when no American worker is available and willing to take the job.

Under the proposal, U.S. employers must make every effort to hire American workers first. The administration has stated that the program would continue to match temporary workers with employers even during times of economic downturn.

The program will protect the United States by controlling its borders. Agreements with participating countries will streamline efforts to document the legal status of incoming and outgoing foreigners. Access to the temporary worker program would require undocumented foreigners to register and provide information regarding their residence, employment, border exits and entries, and biometric information.

This would shed light on a population currently undocumented and allow for more safety and control at U.S. borders.

Benefits to U.S. companies

The Bush administration's proposal is directed toward large businesses in the service industries -- such as hotels, medical facilities and nursing homes, and companies that are likely to need many new workers each year -- that will benefit from the increased pool of available workers.

Employers will be required to make every reasonable effort to find an American to fill the job before selecting a foreign worker from the temporary worker program, resulting in increased recruitment and advertising for open positions. The administration has indicated that the temporary worker program is unlikely to impact small business owners.

Under the Bush proposal, U.S. employers can count on enhanced enforcement of immigration laws. Companies that break the law and hire undocumented works will be penalized, including those that continue to retain foreigners whose status in the temporary worker program has expired.

Planning for the future

While waiting for the immigration reform proposal to be finalized and implemented, U.S. companies should ensure they are in compliance with current immigration laws and regulations governing the hiring of American and foreign workers. It may be advisable to undertake an audit of current hiring practices and documentation procedures to ensure compliance.

U.S. companies may also consider reviewing their advertising and job posting strategies to demonstrate the need for foreign workers. Companies can begin now to keep documentation showing their inability to find available American workers.

Changes in the global business environment mean immigration concerns are no longer the exclusive realm of multinational companies and giant conglomerates. Any organization that intends to add to its work force may face immigration compliance issues.

With expert assistance from attorneys specializing in immigration law, companies can seamlessly make the transition to international employment and assess their ability to benefit from the Bush Administration proposal and other changes to immigration laws. David W. Cook is a partner in the Columbus office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, where he represents businesses and individuals in all areas of immigration, Reach him at (614) 464-5459 or at www.vssp.com.