Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986

By James Parker
/
July 31, 2022

What Is The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986?

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986  is a piece of legislation passed by Congress to address the issue of illegal immigration. Passed the same year as the Immigration Marriage Fraud Act of 1986 by Ronald Reagan, the IRCA struck a compromise between attempting to tighten control over ports of entry while allowing some long-term aliens to gain legal status.

Regarding the restrictions and regulatory changes made, the IRCA made it illegal for employers to knowingly hire or employ any individual who is not legally authorized to work in the United States. To ensure that this was enforceable, the IRCA also established a system for employers to verify the legal status of their employees. Additionally, the IRAC granted the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and U.S. Border Patrol increased funding to bolster their ability to enforce immigration law.

As a compromise to win support for the IRAC, the bill also included provisions granting legal status to immigrants who entered the country before January 1, 1982, and met specific conditions. This clause of the IRAC led to the legalization of 2.7 million immigrants. Additionally, the IRAC increased the number of immigrants allowed in through work visa programs in more industries.

Key Takeaways

  • The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRAC) of 1986 is a piece of legislation that sought to address the issue of illegal immigration in the U.S.
  • One of the significant components of the bill was the requirement for employers to use a newly designed system of testing for citizenship to ensure that the individual they are hiring is authorized to work in the U.S.
  • The IRAC also created two new temporary work authorizations: H-2A for agricultural work and H-2B for nonagricultural work.
  • If you are seeking employment under the IRAC, an experienced Immigration Law attorney can offer advice and advocacy in order to improve the outcome of your case by utilizing experience and expert knowledge.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 and Immigration Law

The IRAC significantly impacted immigration law as a whole, but the bill was particularly reformative in the space of immigration and labor. The IRAC not only designated new temporary work categories for immigrants, it also affected how businesses hired new employees. 

The IRAC made it illegal for any employer to hire or recruit an individual who is not authorized to work in the U.S. knowingly. Additionally, the IRAC also made it a crime to continue employing anyone the employer discovered was not allowed to work in the U.S. Finally, on the employee’s end, the IRAC made it illegal to use any fraudulent entry documents or work documents to obtain employment.

To ensure compliance, the IRAC requires employers to verify whether employees are authorized to work in the U.S. This verification can be used as an affirmative defense by the employer if they are accused of employing unauthorized workers. The IRAC requires employers to comply with three provisions to administer a valid verification test:

  1. The employer has used the employee’s birth certificate, immigration documentation, passport, or Social Security card to verify the employee's work status and has attested to this in a form developed by the attorney general.
  2. The employee has attested that they are authorized to work in the U.S.
  3. These records have been kept for three years.

If these laws have been violated, the IRAC provides individuals and entities the opportunity to report violations and authorizes the INS to investigate complaints. Employers found to have violated the IRAC face monetary penalties ranging from $250 to $10,000 per unauthorized person found to have been working there. For patterns of violations, the IRAC also enacts criminal penalties of up to $3,000 per unauthorized person employed as well as up to six months imprisonment.

In addition to regulating employment, the IRAC also created new, distinct visa categories for temporary workers. The H-2A visa was established for temporary agricultural workers, while the H-2B visa was created for temporary non-agricultural workers. These temporary work visas would only be issued to employers who attested that there are not enough U.S. citizen workers available for the job, and the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. citizens would not be adversely affected. These petitions would automatically be denied if the immigrant workers were being used to break strikes or if the employer failed to comply with the IRAC provisions, such as attempting to hire local workers.

Bottom Line

If you are an immigrant looking to ensure you meet the work eligibility requirements or want to take advantage of the path to citizenship established by the IRAC, you will need the help of an experienced Immigration Law attorney. An Immigration Law attorney will be able to advise you and advocate on your behalf to get you the best possible outcome for your case.

Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Immigration Law attorney can explore your alternative options to deportation as well as present your case in the most compelling light possible and deftly navigate the complex processes of immigration bureaucracy as well as the obscure functions of immigration court.

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