Churches are increasingly hiring foreign nationals as employees and independent contractors. Federal immigration law regulates the admission, status, and employability of foreign citizens in the United States, and imposes requirements on employers who seek to hire such persons. These requirements generally apply to religious organizations.
Church pastors and leaders must become familiar with these requirements and actively monitor developments and changes. In particular, leaders must educate themselves on the various types of visas available, record-keeping requirements employers must meet, and the Form I-9.
Headlines from the past year illustrate the increased scrutiny the government is placing on the employment of foreign nationals:
- In June of 2018, The Kiplinger Letter reported the Trump administration was “tackling illegal immigration from all angles,” particularly I-9 audits, unannounced site visits, and stricter rules regarding student visas. In January of 2019, the publication reported the results of this increased action for 2018: I-9 audits quadrupled, 2,300 people were arrested, and $20 million in fines were doled out. The publication’s guidance to employers for the year ahead: “[B]e extra careful that workers’ I-9 forms are filled out correctly. Audit them yourself to make certain.”
- In September of 2018, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) reiterated the increase in I-9 audits, adding “[o]rganizations may be selected at random, and have only three business days after receiving a notification from ICE to produce their I-9s and all associated hiring and employment records. If ICE detects any compliance issues after reviewing the documentation, the organization has 10 business days to correct the problems before fines and penalties are issued.” The ECFA highly recommended religious organizations conduct regular internal audits of their I-9s.