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Partnering for Better Immigrant Hiring Practices

April 26, 2007
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Related Topics: Immigration, Contingent Staffing, Featured Article, Recruitment
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When immigration enforcement officials showed up at the offices of Staff Management last year, their presence didn’t stir the kind of panic that goes on in some workplaces. They had been invited in to review contingent worker hiring practices at the Chicago-based staffing company.

    Staff Management passed the test, and recently became the first staffing company to be part of a new pilot program aimed at improving workforce compliance with immigration laws. Under the voluntary program, called IMAGE, companies agree to an audit of their hiring practices by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. If they pass, they are certified by the government and help shape best practices for compliance with immigration hiring rules.

    Chicago-based Staff Management does on-site staffing for other companies, with a concentration in light industry. The firm decided to join the program as a reality check on its compliance program and to boost its image as a staffing company with a solid grounding in meeting immigration requirements.

    "With all the negative press on this issue, we felt it was our responsibility to make sure we are doing our due diligence," COO Joan Davison says.

    Still, Davison says she was surprised at just how inquisitive the federal authorities were. After volunteering, Staff Management underwent an extensive review of how it handles federal employment verification forms, better known as I-9s, which require prospective hires to show proof of employability.

    A federal crackdown on the hiring of undocumented workers has led to a number of high-profile cases recently. In one of the largest actions, federal agents in December raided six meat processing plants run by Swift & Co., rounding up more than 1,200 suspected undocumented workers. Ironically, Swift was sued by the government just a few years earlier on allegations that its efforts to do background checks on prospective workers might be discriminatory.

    IMAGE, an acronym for ICE Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers, was set up last summer and is an attempt to bring more standardization to the screening process employers use by helping them set up effective systems to check basic worker eligibility. The goal is to use practices that conform to federal requirements, but don’t pry too deeply. To participate in IMAGE, companies join the DHS’ Basic Pilot program, an Internet-based employee authorization verification system linked to the Social Security Administration database and DHS immigration records.

    "I think this program is kind of teaching us what to look for, helping us to train our management team around the country on what practices are appropriate," Davison says about IMAGE.

    The eight other members of the program so far represent a cross section of companies and include mammoth defense contractor General Dynamics, some manufacturers and a construction company. Bringing in a staffing company extends the program to an industry that deals with temporary and contingent employment and places some 12 million workers in U.S. jobs each year.

    Ed Lenz, senior vice president and general counsel for the American Staffing Association, says others in the industry may join if the program proves beneficial to Staff Management.

    But he says the required federal audit is not something that staffing companies should regard lightly.

    "This is designed to help employers do a better job," Lenz says. "But it doesn’t insulate them from liability if the audit spots problems. They need to make sure their systems are in pretty good shape before they do this."

    Kevin Sibley, acting unit chief for the ICE Worksite Enforcement Unit, says the participation of staffing companies is particularly important because of the role they play in the growing field of contract and contingent labor. He anticipated more staffing companies would follow Staff Management’s lead and join IMAGE.

    "Many of our current and prospective IMAGE partners have relayed that their greatest concern or perceived weakness is with their contract employees," Sibley says. "This concern would be greatly mitigated with more and more staffing companies participating in IMAGE."

    For more on IMAGE, www.ice.gov.

Workforce Management, March 12, 2007, p. 23 -- Subscribe Now!

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