What Is the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)?

Thanks to political campaigns and debates on immigration, you might have heard of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The Act is a big topic that politicians keep coming back to. But, what is the IRCA, and what does it mean for your business?

Immigration Reform and Control Act definition

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) is an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. IRCA was introduced in 1986 to control the alarmingly high rates of illegal immigration. Employers were giving many American jobs to illegal immigrants.

What is the IRCA?

As a major step to improve immigration laws, the IRCA is meant to reserve jobs for legal residents and immigrants. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is in charge of enforcing IRCA.

The Act prohibits employers from hiring or referring individuals who are not authorized to work in the United States. Employers are also required to thoroughly check the identity and employment authorization of employees.

Employers must complete Form I-9 for each employee within three days of hire. If you do not complete Form I-9 properly or at all, you might face fines of up to $1,000 for each hire or possible jail time. The penalty for hiring people who are not authorized to work in the U.S. is even steeper—up to $5,500 per worker.

When creating the IRCA, Congress did make a few exceptions for illegal immigrants. IRCA officially excused certain agricultural illegal immigrants, as well as workers who illegally entered the United States before 1982. For a detailed summary of the IRCA, visit the Library of Congress website.

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What does IRCA mean to employers?

Employers cannot hire immigrants who are not authorized to work in the U.S. All workers must fit into one of the four following categories:

  1. U.S. citizen
  2. Noncitizen national
  3. Lawful permanent resident
  4. Alien authorized to work

To check work authorization, the federal government requires a Form I-9 be filled out for every employee upon hire. This applies to U.S. citizens, too. The employee will fill out the first section and indicate their work authorization classification.

You will fill out the second section and inspect their identification documents. You cannot require employees to show you specific identification documents to inspect.

Employers also face certain restrictions to prevent undue discrimination against minorities and immigrants. You are not allowed to ask for country of citizenship or proof of immigration during the interview process. You can check for work authorization and other credentials only after making an offer. It is also illegal for you to discriminate potential hires based on a candidate’s immigration status.

Additionally, the IRCA makes it illegal for you to knowingly recruit and hire undocumented workers. Any eligibility verification carried out by the employer should be completed after an official employment offer has been made. To know more about how the IRCA affects pre-employment and recruitment, visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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This article has been updated from its original publication date of July 23, 2012.

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