The Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) unit of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been conducting employer site visits for several years. The unit has recently expanded the worksite visit program by adding substantially more staff and broadening its investigative efforts. What this means is that the employers that have sponsored foreign workers for employment (e.g., H-1B petition) may have an increased chance of getting a site visit by an FDNS unit officer (or a private investigator contracted by USCIS), who, in most situations, will arrive at the worksite unannounced. Employers will want to be prepared for such surprise visits.
FDNS officers typically spend anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes at the employer’s site. The officer will likely ask to speak to a human resources manager. Infrequently, the foreign national beneficiary of the petition in question and his or her direct supervisor or manager may also be contacted.
The purpose of the site visit is to verify information in a specific immigration petition (e.g., H-1B petition), and the officer will generally have a copy of the petition. The officer usually works from a standard list of questions used for all employers. The information gathered with respect to the employer includes the nature of the employer’s business, annual revenue, the number of employees, and the employer’s overall use of specific immigration programs. With respect to the foreign worker in question, and other similarly situation employees, basic information such as job title, responsibilities, salary and credentials are being sought. The officer may also ask to view and/or photograph the employer’s premises and the foreign national’s work area. The officer may also request additional documents such as payroll records or pay stubs for the foreign national.
Practical tips in the event of an unexpected site visit:
1. Don’t panic. Note that a site visit is not indicative of any “problem” and that this may be a random visit.
2. Ask the FDNS officer to show his/her identification and business card and record it.
3. You may ask to have counsel present during the site visit, particularly if the attorney has submitted a Form G-28 Notice of Appearance in connection with a petition at issue. In general, however, FDNS officers will not reschedule a site visit just so that an attorney can be physically present. If the officer refuses to wait for an attorney or to reschedule a visit, the employer should request that the counsel be available at least by phone during the course of the site visit. If the officer is resistant, the employer should explain that having the company’s immigration counsel present or available by phone will help the employer respond fully and accurately to the officer’s questions and requests for information.
4. Cooperate with FDNS officers as much as possible. A failure to cooperate fully could jeopardize the specific immigration petition in question and compromise the company’s likelihood of success in future filings. Note that in submitting petitions for immigration benefits, employers have already agreed to reasonable inquiries from the government. With respect to clearly “off limits” requests that are not sufficiently related to the immigration petition being verified, however, the company may decline to respond.
5. If the FDNS officer asks for very specific information, such as the exact number of H-1B workers employed by the company, and if the information is not readily available without reviewing company records or obtaining the assistance of outside immigration counsel to obtain the data, the employer should request a reasonable amount of time to gather the information.
Although an unexpected site visit by a USCIS officer may be an unnerving experience, in general it should not be a cause of concern for employers who have complied and documented such compliance with the Department of Labor and USCIS requirements in filing immigration petitions.