Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) is a federal law that was designed to revise and reform the status of authorized immigrants based on the Immigration and Nationality Act. At the time it became law on November 6, 1986, this revision was the first major revision of the United States’ immigration laws in decades.

It is a long and complicated law that is divided into several sections, including legalization and reform of legal immigration and control of unauthorized immigration. The ICRC specifically indicates which workers it is legal to hire and how employers should verify that a worker is permitted to work in the United States.

Concerns Addressed in the IRCA

The new law specifically allowed aliens to obtain legal status if certain requirements were met. The applicant's’ status was determined by certain “Designated Entities” and the U.S. Attorney General. Applicants must show that they lived in the U.S. and maintained a non-stop physical presence in the country since at least January 1, 1982. They must also have a clean criminal background and provide proof that they have registered for the Selective Service. Those who apply must also meet minimum knowledge requirements in subjects such as U.S. history, government, and the English language. Alternative, they could pursue a course of study approved by the Attorney General.

The IRCA also set out provisions for employment, travel, false statements, adjustments for status, numerical designations, and application treatment by “Designated Entities.” The Immigration and Naturalization Service is charged with carrying out the ICRA. 

The IRCA and Employment

The Act attempts to also preserve jobs for those who are legally permitted to hold them, such as those who are authorized to work in the United States and American citizens. The ICRA also prevents employers from knowingly hiring, referring, or recruiting workers that are not authorized to work in the U.S.

The law addresses a public policy concern regarding illegal immigration and employment. To that end, it specifically requires greater control and increased enforcement means by the federal government. For example, all employers must verify the employment eligibility and identity of all employees, including temporary and student employees as of November 6, 1986. Every employee must now complete an INS Form I-9 to document this verification process. Failing to meet the requirements of this verification process will result in the termination of that employee.

Mastering HR: Immigration

Under IRCA, any company that has at least four employees is not permitted to discriminate against employees or potential employees because of national origin and citizenship. The IRCA also sets out basic restrictions of employing foreign workers. For example, it is illegal to any employer to knowingly hire foreign workers who are not legally permitted to work in the U.S. Employers must verify that new employees can work in the U.S. by having them fill Form I-9.

HR Guide to Employment Law

A new elective E-Verify system permits employers to verify that an employee’s vital information, such as name, birthdate and social security number, match public records. If any of the employee’s information does not match, the employer is notified and the employee must be immediately notified as well.

You should always have your I-9 Forms available for inspection for any representative from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Office of the Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices, or the Department of Labor. Employers should keep I-9s for at least three years after employment starts or one year after the employment relationship ends, whichever is later.

What is the IRCA?

The ICRC is designed to encourage employment opportunities for immigrants and legal residents. It has been a key step in improving immigration laws. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has been tasked with enforcing the IRCA.

The Act specifically prevents employers from referring or hiring people who are not legally authorized to work in the United States. Employers must thoroughly check the identity and employment authorization of employees by requiring that each employee complete a Form I-9 within three days of their first date of employment.

Congress made some exceptions for illegal immigrants within the ICRC. For example, agricultural illegal immigrants are excused from requirements imposed by the ICRC. Those who have illegally entered the U.S. before 1982 are also excused.

What does IRCA mean to employers?

The IRCA prevents employers from hiring immigrants who are not legally permitted to work in the United States. Every work must be considered one of the following to work in the United States:

  • U.S. Citizen
  • Noncitizen national
  • Alien authorized to work
  • Lawful permanent resident

Every employee must complete a Form I-9 upon hire. However, in completing this form, you cannot require that employees show you specific documents to inspect. Only those documents that the Form I-9 sets out can be required. In addition, any eligibility verification that the employer conducts should only occur after an official offer of employment has been made.

In addition, employers must also conform to certain restrictions that are aimed at preventing discrimination against minorities and immigrants. For example, employers cannot ask about citizenship or proof of immigration status during the hiring process.

If you need help with compliance issues regarding the IRCA as an employer or you have been a victim of discrimination as an employee, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.