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updated: 5/21/2017 4:41 PM

Immigration uncertainty clouds strategic options

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The daily swirl of events that comes with the Trump administration has pushed immigration lower on the hot topic lists. However, there are at least two immigration issues that should be on business owner radars.

One is Form I-9, proof you must have that each individual you hire -- or have hired -- is eligible to work in the U.S. The I-9 is not new and, unless your business is making its first hires, shouldn't be a big issue.

Simply remember that the business, not the employee, is responsible for the accuracy of the I-9.

There are more serious immigration issues. "The biggest problem now is the uncertainty" about where the Trump administration's immigration policies will take us, says Vishal Chhabria, an immigration attorney at Lavelle Law Ltd., Palatine.

Strategic business planning is the issue.

"Let's say yours is a tech firm and you want to bid on a project that is one, two or three years out into the future," Chhabria poses. "You need the ability to plan."

Will there be travel restrictions placed on students, professors and research associates -- the types of people on your staff now or ones you will need to bring aboard to complete the project you're bidding on, Chhabria asks.

Businesses, he says, "need a predictable system" to plan ahead.

Chhabria's concern about planning doesn't trump his concerns about the I-9. (Blame me for the pun, not Chhabria.)

"No matter if you've hired the neighbor who was born in the same hospital where you were born and has lived next door since, you need an I-9 for the employee," says Chhabria.

You need the I-9s for the day an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent comes to your office to inspect your I-9 records. Assuming your business is beyond its initial hire or two, you probably have the paperwork and know where it is.

Whether your ICE visitor has shown up for a mostly routine check or whether your business is part of an ICE raid -- many ICE agents descending on your workplace looking for both authorizations and people -- Chhabria says there is a protocol, including having a designated greeter who knows what to say to the agent, or agents, and an ability to refrain from interfering.

Still, is a truly small business likely to have a visit from ICE? If your business is in the defense sector -- maybe making a piece of a piece that becomes an important part of, for example, military equipment -- or if your sector is infrastructure, the chances ICE will visit are higher.

ICE is more likely to audit the bigger fish, but "The new administration is hiring more ICE agents and expects to do more than three times as many audits this year as last," Chhabria says. "I believe you should be careful with your I-9 handling."

Chhabria suggests reviewing websites run by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security for updated information.

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