April 2015 Bar Bulletin
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April 2015 Bar Bulletin

Nine Mistaken Beliefs about Immigrants and the Law

By Greg McLawsen and Gustavo Cueva


Immigration law is often viewed as a niche practice area. Perhaps for this reason there are many common misperceptions about immigration law and immigrants in the bar at large. Here are a few we have encountered.

1. Anyone can apply for a work permit. Unfortunately, there is no garden variety work permit that just anyone can apply for. As a U.S. employer, or would-be worker, there's no one-size-fits-all solution.

Instead, authorization is tied to specific visa categories and other immigration benefits. Bottom line: whether a work solution is available will always be fact dependent.

2. An undocumented person can't receive L&I. Legal immigration status is not required to be eligible for workers' compensation benefits from the Washington Department of Labor and Industries.

Employers must tread carefully if they believe an employee claiming benefits is undocumented. Singling out that employee for scrutiny of immigration status may run afoul of anti-discrimination laws.

3. I don't need to validate work authorization for my own law firm staff/lawyers. All U.S. employers are required to ensure new hires are authorized to work in the country.

The Form I-9 must be completed within three business days of a new hire and the employer must inspect the supporting documents.1 All employers need to follow the guidelines for completing and retaining these mandatory forms.2

4. Most immigrants are from Mexico. Many believe that immigration into the U.S. consists mostly of Mexican nationals. Yet in 2013, of 990,553 people who became legal permanent residents of the United States, only 135,038 (14%) came from Mexico.3

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