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Add labor experts to team

Any farm that has foreign-born employees ought to consider outsourcing payroll services and retaining a immigration attorney, says David Skaggs, South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s dairy development director.

A payroll service can help you properly manage I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms, which are required now by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Agency. All employers must use the form to verify a worker’s identity and establish that the worker is eligible to accept employment in the United States. And it can store the documents for you. If you are audited, the service can review the forms to make sure everything is in order before turning them over to immigration officials.

Employers who knowingly hire or continue to employ unauthorized workers may face both criminal and civil penalties.

U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement can levy fines for filling out the I-9 form incorrectly, even if none of the employees is illegal. Abercombie and Fitch was recently fined more than $1 million for improperly filling out I-9 forms.

Billy Hill, a human resource specialist and president of Specialty Office Solutions, Naples, Fla., a full-service payroll company, says outsourcing services for a farm with five employees can cost as little as $150 a month. He spoke recently at the Central Plains Dairy Women’s Conference in Sioux Falls.

An immigration attorney can help you obtain visas that can be used to legally hire and retain foreign-born workers.

You have to be careful about visas, says Karen Caco, an attorney with Naples-based International Immigration Services, noting there is a lot of misinformation out there.

“There are many different visa programs to consider, but you have to know what it takes to qualify for them,” she says.A qualified attorney also can handle questions from enforcement officials.

“If ICE shows up at your farm, the important thing is to be polite,” Caco advises. “ICE has been visiting individual locations more frequently. While it is disconcerting and probably scary ... it’s better to be nice than to be nasty — so be polite overall.”

If you have retained an attorney, or at least know an attorney you can call when ICE visits, tell the officials you are happy to cooperate with them, and you will instruct your attorney to handle their requests.

Immigration officials will ask you for your I-9 forms, Caco says. Make sure the forms are not stored on the farm (they are not supposed to be in with the employees’ file anyway to prevent managers from discriminating based on nationality). If I-9 forms are stored off-site, ICE must give you at least three days to produce them.

“We get many questions about whether E Verify [an electronic Social Security verification system] is legally required. Regardless of what the ICE officer is telling you, it is not federal legislation that you sign up. You are not required to do so.” She says if ICE officers get insistent, “just say no! Be polite and advise that you will discuss this with your attorney.”

Most immigration attorneys work on a flat-fee basis for individual cases. “We provide flat-fee and monthly retainers based on number of foreign employees and overall need. A good attorney will be glad to assess your individual situation and make recommendations,” she says.

No wrongdoing

Hiring a payroll service and/or an immigration attorney doesn’t imply that you have hired illegal workers, Skagg says.

“It’s being proactive and makes good business sense. There are lots of factors that come into play when you have foreign-born workers. Just as you wouldn’t go into an income tax audit without your accountant or tax attorney, surround yourself with good folks who can help you.”

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LEGAL LABOR: A crew hand-weeds a dry edible bean field.

This article published in the December, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.