On Monday, the White House announced that President Bush has signed Executive Order 12989, requiring all federal government contractors to use an electronic employment eligibility verification system, as designated by the secretary of homeland security, to verify the employment eligibility of their workforce. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has already announced that the Internet-based E-Verify program is the system that must be used. Specifically, federal contractors, as a condition of each future federal contract, must agree to use E-Verify to verify the work authorization of all new hires and all persons assigned to work on a contract within the U.S.

Many states have already enacted legislation requiring the use of E-Verify for state agencies and state contractors. However, the executive order is the first federal mandate regarding E-Verify. Some speculate that the order might be the first step in an eventual national policy on work authorization. Secretary Chertoff estimates that the order will affect hundreds of thousands of employees and as many as one million workers. There is concern that the order will overwhelm the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA), which must work with employees to correct errors in the SSA/DHS databases, but Secretary Chertoff says that the DHS can handle as many as 1,000 new employers per week. Many questions remain unanswered with regard to the order, such as whether subcontractors are required to use E-Verify and when use of the program becomes mandatory. The order grants the DHS the authority for its administration and enforcement, so we expect that the DHS will offer additional guidance and clarification in the coming months.

We will continue to update you as new information becomes available. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to discuss how the executive order might affect you or your business.

Tips for Trouble-Free Summer Travel

With the summer holiday season upon us, many foreign nationals will travel abroad to visit family and friends. We urge all foreign nationals to plan well in advance for possible delays that could have an impact on exit from, and re-entry into, the U.S. The DHS' entry and exit registration program, known as US-VISIT, affects all non-immigrant visa holders exiting and entering the United States. Foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. have their two index fingers scanned and a digital photograph taken to match and authenticate their travel documents at the port of entry. This inspection process may result in delays. US-VISIT only applies to persons traveling with a U.S. visa, and so it does not apply to persons traveling under the Visa Waiver Program or to most Canadians.

For those foreign nationals who will need to apply for visa stamps at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad before returning to the U.S., visa issuance is no longer a simple, straightforward matter. Department of State regulations require mandatory personal appearances for most visa applicants. In addition, security clearances are required before any visa can be issued. Appointments at many of the embassies need to be scheduled well in advance, especially during the summer months, as many are now reporting wait times of 30+ days. In addition, once an individual appears at the consulate for the personal interview, it can take 30 days or more for the passport to be returned, pending the result of all security clearances.

As always, we recommend that foreign nationals carefully inspect passports, visa stamps and I-94 Departure Records to be sure that all documents are valid and bear the correct visa classification and correct validity dates. In general, passports should be valid for at least six months beyond the period of admission to the U.S. The principal employee should also be sure to carefully inspect his or her family members' documents. Immigration and consular officials can and do make mistakes, so it is important that documents are reviewed before leaving the consulate or walking away from the inspection officer.

Upon re-entry into the U.S., foreign nationals should expect enhanced screening and questioning by immigration officers. Identity and visa validity will be checked against law enforcement databases. Applicants will be questioned about their immigration status, travel history, purpose of the visit, background, employment and other issues. Travelers should expect delays due to these security measures. It is always best to remain patient, answer questions as clearly as possible and ask for clarification if a question is misunderstood. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) now provides wait times online at www.cbp.gov for 16 of the busiest international airports and pedestrian wait times for 12 land border crossings in Arizona, California and Texas. We encourage foreign nationals to review these wait times to ensure the best travel planning possible.

Please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Immigration practice if you have foreign national employees who will travel abroad this summer and will need to apply for a new visa stamp before they return to the U.S. We can provide the employee with a visa revalidation package that includes detailed instructions on scheduling the visa appointment, documents required for the appointment, information on payment of fees, etc.