What Type of Questions Can an Employer Ask At A Job Interview?

For immigrants, it can sometimes be tough looking for a job, as there are employers who are simply not interested in hiring people on temporary visas.  For employer, it can be difficult to know what you can and cannot ask about someones immigration status without running afoul of discrimination laws.   Recently the Office of Special Council for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), which is part of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Justice, was asked about several different types of questions that an employer might ask, and if those types of questions were allowable under the anti-discrimination laws.  Here are the exact employer questions that were posed:

 A. Do you now, or will you in the future, require sponsorship (e.g., H-lB visa status, etc.) to work legally for THE COMPANY in the United States?

B. If you will require sponsorship, do you currently hold Optical Practical Training (OPT)?

C. If you currently hold OPT, are you eligible for a 24-month extension of your OPT, based upon a degree from a qualifying US institution in Science, Technology, Engineering, or . Mathematics (STEM), as defined by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (and as outlined in the following government website: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/ documents/Document/2016/ stem-list.pdf?

As can be seen, these were fairly specific questions aimed at either determining if the person would require sponsorship, and/or if they had their own source of employment authorization for a good period of time.  Here is the response from the OSC:

As you know, the statute prohibits denying protected individuals employment because of their real or perceived immigration or citizenship status. U.S. citizens and nationals, refugees, asylees, and recent lawful permanent residents are protected from citizenship status discrimination in hiring under the INA. Accordingly, an employer that asks all of its job applicants whether they will require sponsorship now or in the future and refuses to hire those who require sponsorship would likely not violate 8 U.S.C. 1324b. Similarly, an employer that asks questions designed to prefer certain classes of nonimmigrant visa holders (e.g., STEM OPT students) over other classes of nonimmigrant visa holders is unlikely to violate the INA’s prohibition against citizenship status discrimination.

So, interestingly, as long as you ask ALL job applicants these questions, there should be little danger of running afoul of the discrimination laws.  However, the OSC went on to say:

However, asking job applicants detailed questions about their immigration or citizenship status may deter individuals who are protected from citizenship status discrimination, such as refugees and asylees, from applying due to a misunderstanding about their eligibility for the position. Therefore, we caution employers against asking detailed questions pertaining to status that may lead to such confusion.

The above should give some pause to employers who want to go beyond simple questions made to ALL applicants.  Even if you follow the above, that is no guarantee that you will not be referred to the OSC, as an applicant can still allege that they felt discriminated against, or that the questions made them feel as though they were not welcome to apply (for those in a protected class).    It is also important to remember that the above is ONLY in relation to discrimination based upon immigration status.

There are other forms of discrimination including national origin discrimination that does extend to those with work authorization cards.  Here is what the OSC says about this type of discrimination:

In addition, all work-authorized individuals are protected from national origin discrimination under the anti-discrimination provision. Accordingly, individuals who believe that they were not hired based on national origin-for example, their country of origin, accent or appearance-may allege discrimination on this basis.

So  even though not hiring someone based upon their need for sponsorship would not violate one provision, it may violate this provision if the applicant can show that they were discriminated upon because of their national origin, accent or appearance.  This is something else to keep in mind, especially for the HR personal carrying out the interviews.

If you have any questions leave a comment below or send me an email.  Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.

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