New Immigration Laws Affect Local Employers

Lamar8915-IMG1-OPTBy Sarah H. Lamar, HunterMaclean

Special to Savannah Morning News

New immigration reform requirements passed by the Georgia legislature and signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal directly affect local employers.

The final implementation phase of  HB 87 – which creates new standards and procedures for many Georgia businesses to ensure new hires are legally eligible to work in the United States – went into effect earlier this month. Starting July 1, private employers with 10 or more employees as of January 1, 2013 must use the federal E-Verify system for new hires. Although the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act became effective in 2011, the final phase enabled smaller companies to have more time to comply with the law.

In addition, SB 160 also went into effect on July 1. This new law primarily blocks illegal immigrants from securing state driver’s licenses, grants, public housing and retirement benefits. The legislation also expands the requirement of the original 2011 law requiring construction and labor companies who contract with the state of Georgia and any county or municipality to sign an affidavit confirming they are in compliance with the federal E-Verify program, which confirms whether new hires are legally authorized to work in the United States based on their immigration status.

As of July 1, any contractor or subcontractor who provides a service to state or local government must sign an affidavit confirming participation  in the E-Verify program. Even small firms providing web design services or accounting services must comply with the law.

This latest legislation is designed to ensure that “public employers and contractors at every tier and level use the federal work authorization program on all projects, jobs and work resulting from any bid or contract.” There is no small employer exclusion, which means the law applies to companies of any size engaged in contracting or subcontracting with state or local government. Employers can be subject to fines and other penalties for not complying with the latest immigration requirements.

Why are all these immigration-related changes affecting Georgia employers? Congress has had difficulty reforming national immigration laws, which means states have had to pass laws and devise solutions to address illegal immigration. Georgia is one of a growing number of Southern states – including Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina—that have passed e-Verify laws in recent years.

Without a consistent federal approach to illegal immigration issues, states have created a patchwork of immigration laws. Because requirements differ from state to state, companies that do business outside Georgia need to be sure they are in full compliance with any applicable immigration reform laws in other states.

Ultimately, Savannah-area employers should review their employment verification policies and procedures to fully comply with the latest requirements. Consult with an employment law attorney to determine how your company can adhere to the recent HB 87 and SB 160 changes.

In today’s environment of heightened government scrutiny of employer I-9 practices, failure to adhere to required employment verification practices can expose employers to civil monetary penalties and potential criminal sanctions. Be strategic and proactive to reduce your company’s vulnerability to penalties for non-compliance with Georgia’s latest immigration reform legislation.