On February 21, 2017, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released two memoranda signed by DHS Secretary Kelly addressing immigration enforcement. While a sitting President cannot independently modify laws or regulations without going through the normal rule making process, he/she can significantly alter policy and enforcement priorities. These two memoranda are a clear example of a shift in focus. While the memos largely address individuals who are undocumented, your foreign national employees may be collaterally impacted as a result of being inadvertently involved in an enforcement action, when encountering an emboldened DHS officer or even in dealing with local police officials, given their new immigration related authority.
We provide a brief overview of several issues one may encounter. We will provide additional information in subsequent postings as these directives, and others, continue to evolve.
1. Fact or Fiction, Can Your Foreign National Employee be Detained by DHS?
The new Kelly memos make it clear that the previous administration’s “catch and release” program is over. The administration vows to deter illegal immigration by aggressively detaining noncitizens and expanding the categories of individuals who are considered priorities for removal. The broad language of the memos suggest that a foreign national employee could be detained and deported if he/she is convicted of a criminal offense, charged with a criminal offense, or even has committed acts that could rise to a chargeable criminal offense. Assuming your employee has proper visa classification and he/she has been maintaining status, all should be OK.
As the law requires, we recommend all foreign nationals carry with them, at all times, proof of immigration status. This means if your employee is a nonimmigrant worker (H-1B, L-1B, E-3, etc.) he/she should carry his/her Employment Authorization Document, I-94 card, passport with entry stamp, or other proof of lawful presence (or at least a photocopy of the relevant documents and be able to access the original quickly if needed). If your employee is a Lawful Permanent Resident, he/she should carry his/her greencard (or at least a photocopy and be able to access the original quickly if needed). Employees should have handy the name and contact information of their supervisor or HR representative who can also verify their employment details.
2. Fact or Fiction, Can the Company Continue to Employ a Foreign National Worker Authorized to Work Pursuant to DACA (Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals)?
As per the Questions and Answers guidance provided by DHS subsequent to the release of the memos, DACA continues as a program. That means that if your employee is a DACA beneficiary and is employed pursuant to a valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD), you can continue to employ him/her and they can continue to renew their work permit. This may change in the near future but for now it stands.
Some leaked Executive Orders (EO) have included provisions to end “amnesty programs.” If this should happen, a DACA beneficiary will lose his/her permission to work in the United States. Short of marrying a U.S. citizen, most DACA participants have no other immigration relief or form of work eligibility. We have some hope that when implementing any new executive orders, the government will allow the “Dreamers” to continue working at least through the expiration of their current EADs so that both employers and employees alike are not impacted suddenly.
3. Fact or Fiction, Can the Company’s Foreign National Employees Continue to Travel Abroad?
Yes, but customs officers at airports and other ports of entry may question the employee about their immigration status and underlying eligibility for that status. If the employee is selected for a longer interview during the admission process, he/she will be sent to a “secondary inspection” area. While United States citizens have the right to have an attorney present during questioning, non-citizens generally do not have such a right while the officer determines whether or not to admit the foreign national employee.
Please advise your employees that if a DHS officer’s questions have to do with anything other than the foreign national’s immigration status, he/she does have the right to an attorney but it is unlikely that such requests will be granted until after the questioning is completed.
Also, employers should be warned that we expect a new Executive Order (EO) re-implementing the “travel ban” will be issued next week. While foreign nationals of the 7 countries noted in the previous EO, namely Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, will be surely impacted, it is possible the new EO will extend a “travel ban” to other countries. As such, we recommend foreign nationals from these 7 countries not travel abroad at this time, and we will keep you updated as the new EO is released to warn potentially additional foreign national employees against travel.
4. Fact of Fiction, Can a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer Review My and/or a Foreign Employee’s Personal Electronic Devices and /or Social Media Accounts?
Since 2008, it has been the position of CBP that it may, upon a “reasonable suspicion”, inspect electronic devices, such as phones and laptops. Moreover, this can result in CBP confiscating the devices for several weeks or months. As such, employees should take proactive steps to ensure the confidentiality of client, customer and proprietary information. This means that phones and computers should contain only information that is needed for the business trip. Some employers may want to provide laptops and phones that are used solely for business trips and do not contain any sensitive information. Basically, if the employee does not need the device or information for the trip – it should be left at home.
With respect to social media, CBP Officers have recently been requesting passwords to review an applicant for admission’s social networking activity. In addition, social media questions – while not yet mandatory – have been added to the ESTA online application. ESTA provides visa free travel to nationals of certain designated countries. As such, it appears that the trend will continue so employees should continue to utilize social media judiciously and remember that no post in cyber space is confidential.
5. Fact of Fiction, Do These Changes Impact a Foreign Worker’s Privacy Rights?
The memorandum addressing this issue states that DHS will no longer afford Privacy Act rights and protections to individuals who are neither U.S. citizens nor lawful permanent residents. Since 2009, DHS has treated personally identifiable information (PII) as subject to the Privacy Act. PII includes information that is collected, used, maintained, or disseminated and includes U.S. citizens and LPRs, as well as visitors and undocumented persons.
Non-U.S. persons have had the right of access to their PII and the right to amend their records, absent an exemption under the Privacy Act. It is unclear whether the 2009 guidance will remain in place until the DHS Privacy Office develops new guidance and it is unclear what DHS intends as to the scope, purpose, and intent of the new guidance. For example, if your foreign national employee commits a crime or is even suspected of committing a crime as determined by an immigration officer, the employee’s name may be placed on a list which DHS will be begin publishing and making public soon.
Most employers are committed to having a diversity of talent and to the fair and equal treatment of all employees, whatever their background, so perhaps this is a good time to share such a message with your employees. It is probably beneficial to include that as an employer, the company will aim to support and protect colleagues, regardless of their race, country of origin, and religion or belief system, and that the previous (and perhaps future) executive orders, as well as memoranda are only likely to affect a small minority of employees but are still taken very seriously. Confirming that impacted employees can reach out to local HR partners or managers if they have questions or concerns is highly reassuring to most employees.