Businesses nationwide are responsible for verifying each employees’ eligibility to work in the United States. While the concept is simple, the steps to being I9 compliant can be more complex. If a company hopes to be compliant with federal law, it is their duty to familiarize themselves with the Form I-9 procedure and the documents required for the I-9.
What is the Form I-9?
Since the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, the law requires that employers and employees complete the Form I-9. This legal document of just one page consists of three main sections, each with its own deadlines.
Section 1: Employees must fill out this section by the first day of employment. Employees must accurately and truthfully complete this section, or they can be charged with perjury. Employers should look over the final version of this section to make sure it is complete in its entirety without any blank fields or missing signatures.
Section 2: This section of the Form I-9 requires that employees provide employers with one or more forms of identification to prove the employee’s eligibility to work in the United States of America. Once these forms of identification are supplied to the company, employers must verify the employee’s work eligibility by authenticating these same documents required for the I-9 within three days of an employee’s start date.
Section 3: This last part of the form is generally completed by employers only if an employee’s work authorization expires, the employee has a legal name change, or if the employee is rehired within three years of the original date listed on the Form I-9.
While in theory a one-page document should not be difficult to complete, many employees and employers find it to be a complex legal document and welcome the use of additional resources to help streamline the process. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has put together a manual called the Handbook for Employers M-274 which can be a good resource. For those companies that prefer a more hands on resource that is interactive and user friendly, digital I-9 compliance software may be a helpful in staying compliant.
How a Proper I-9 Process Can Help Save a Company from Violations
Particularly because the Form I-9 is required by law, any company in the United States should be prepared to be audited by a government agency such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). With the incidence of Form I-9 compliance worksite investigations having been estimated as quadrupling in recent years, no company can afford not to do everything within its power to be Form I-9 compliant. Ice audits are becoming more and more frequent with the increase of the enforcement efforts.
When it comes to a worksite investigation, the auditing agency may provide advance notice to the employer, but is not required to do so. At the time of investigation, companies are required to provide certain forms of documentation such as licenses, a list of current employees, a copy of payroll, and articles of organization. From there, the inspecting agency generally evaluates the I-9 forms. Depending on the violations found, a company can be given up to ten days to make appropriate corrections, but could still face fines for those violations.
Criminal violations generally pertain to companies with a documented pattern of fee-based recruiting, referring, or hiring of employees not eligible to work within the United States. Civil violations can pertain to noncompliance via committing document fraud or abuse, discrimination, hiring or continuing to employ an unauthorized alien, or failure to notify authorities of follow up confirmation of eligibility.
Depending on the type and number of violations, fines will vary. Fines are generally issued per case of noncompliance and may quickly add up if there are multiple violations. Fines can range from hefty amounts that can affect the company’s bottom line, a loss of workforce, or even the loss of a license to do business.
Documents Required for I-9
When it comes to the identification documents required by the Form I-9, there are generally three different lists of acceptable documents: List A, List B, and List C. Depending on the situation, employees may be required to submit one or more of these documents so that the employer can verify the employee’s eligibility to work.
The purpose of List A documents is to prove both employment authorization and identity. Examples of documents from this list may include:
- United States Passport or United States Passport Card
- Foreign Passports (with required forms, notations, and stamps)
- Previous Permanent Resident Card (signature required)
- Permanent Resident Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card
- Employment Authorization Document Card
- Permanent Resident Card (signature and waived notation required)
- Previous Employment Authorization Document
The purpose of List B documents pertain mostly to establishing an individual’s identity. Those employees that choose to present employers with a document from this list are usually also required to present a document from List C. Examples of documents from List B may include:
- Driver’s License
- Voter Registration Card
- ID Card Issued by a State or Outlying Territory of the U.S. (with required information)
- S. Military Card or Draft Record
- Federal, State, or Local Government Agency/Entity ID (with required information)
- Military Dependent’s ID Card
- School Record, Report Card, or an Official Medical Record (for minors only)
Most List C documents must be presented to employers in conjunction with a List B document. Examples of documents from List C may include:
- United States Social Security Account Number Card (unrestricted)
- Certification of Birth Abroad (as issued by the U.S. Department of State)
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad
- Original or Certified Copy of Birth Certificate Issued By A State, County, Municipal Authority, or Outlying Territory of the U.S. (must bear an official seal)
- Certification Report of Birth (issued by the U.S. Department of State)
- S. Citizen ID Card
- Native American Tribal Document
- Identification Card for Use of Resident Citizen in the U.S.
While some documents may be more challenging to verify than others, it is worth noting that employers do not have the right to dictate specific documents. The failure to adhere to this could result in discrimination violations for the company.
Employers must operate in good faith and verify all documents to the best of their ability. Although not required in all states, the E-Verify program can be helpful in authenticating some forms of identification.
How Digital I-9 Software Can Help Organize I-9 Documents
Companies are increasingly turning to digital I-9 software to help streamline the compliance process. While some software programs may vary, in general, customers can expect the following features from such a service:
- Checklists for employees so they will know in advance what information will be required. These checklists can also be helpful to employers in keeping track of which items have been completed and which have not.
- A streamlined Form I-9 process may also help minimize human error such as a blank field, typo, or missing signature to name a few.
- Timely action item reminders are often helpful to employers. These action item reminders can alert them of Form I-9 deadlines and required follow up on expired documents. These reminders allow employers to become proactive so they can take action before the issues become a matter of noncompliance.
- The ability to digitize and archive documents is also extremely useful to employers and can aid with centralized reporting. The reporting features allows employers to check on their internal compliance status as they wish instead of waiting until an official audit to find out if there are compliancy issues.
By becoming familiar with the Form I-9, learning about the documents required for the I-9, and how to stay compliant, your company can operate with more confidence and peace of mind when it comes to following the letter of the law.