What is the Penalty for Hiring Illegal Immigrants?

As a business owner, one of your goals is maximizing profits. Whether those profits are for you solely or for the shareholders of the company, you are always going to want to do your best to ensure they are as high as possible. One way to do this is by cutting costs. This could be by switching suppliers and looking for deals on bulk buying. Or you might look to cut down on your labor costs. However, reducing labor costs should not mean hiring illegal immigrants who are willing to work for less than U.S. citizens. Why? Because the penalties for hiring undocumented foreign workers can end up being very costly.

What are the Consequences for Hiring an Illegal Immigrant?

It is important to be aware that it is not only directly hiring an illegal immigrant that could get you in hot water. Federal law states that it is illegal to not only hire an illegal immigrant but also to refer one to someone else for employment and receive a fee in return. You may also be in trouble if you hire a contractor who employs illegal immigrants.

In most instances, the consequences a business could face would be fines, which could be as high as $16,000 depending on the number of offenses. Fines typically increase for repeat offenses, and if the employer continues to employ illegal immigrants, they could potentially face a prison sentence. Other consequences include damage to the business’s reputation as well as the loss or suspension of specific licenses.

What if You Didn’t Know a Person Was Illegal?

Saying you did not know is not a defense because it is your responsibility to check the documents provided to you by your employees. And remember, just because someone has a right to reside in the U.S. does not automatically mean that this person is authorized to work here.

Under federal law, employers are required to not only check but also verify potential employee’s authorization to work. Employers are obliged to complete an I-9 form within three days of an individual starting work.

In terms of independent contractors, it is not the responsibility of a business owner to check their work authorization, but they can be held liable if they knew the contractor was using illegal immigrants.

There are consequences for non-I-9 compliance, with fines rising for each incomplete form and for not keeping forms for the required amount of time.

Is There a Valid Defense for Employing Undocumented Immigrants?

If you have inadvertently hired an illegal immigrant, you might be wondering what you can do about it. Maybe the checks were overlooked by a new employee within your company, or it could be that the illegal immigrant was using false documentation to obtain a job.

According to business immigration law firm Graham Adair, it is an employer’s responsibility to check their employees’ authorization to work in the U.S. Should an employer discover that checks were not carried out properly, they should verify documentation as soon as possible.

If an employer has checked for authorization and has been presented with legitimate documents, even if they are false or have been stolen, it is unlikely that the employer would be held criminally liable.

What business owners need to be aware of is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to mount a defense of ‘not knowing’, as new systems are utilizing fingerprints and databases, making it almost impossible to falsify documentation.

It is, therefore, important that employers take all steps to ensure those working for them have the right documentation and authorization to work in the U.S.