A company’s adherence to following I-9 compliance practices has been mandatory since the 1986 Immigration and Reform Control Act. This law requires employers to ensure completion and accuracy when filling out an I-9 form correctly.

If adhering to the law is not enough motivation for a company to comply with the Form I-9 process, the consequences of violations likely are. Fines can add up quickly when issued for multiple instances within a company and can even result in the loss of workforce or a business license. By learning how to fill out an I-9 form correctly, companies are taking a crucial first step in being Form I-9 compliant.

What the Form I-9 Looks Like and Where it Can Be Obtained

The Form I-9 is a federal document established to verify the identity and employment eligibility of individuals hired for work in the United States. This document is to be completed by employees and employers.

There are three main sections of the Form I-9, all of which have a number of blank fields for information that must be filled in completely and correctly. Proper procedure requires that there be no typos, incomplete or blank fields, and no missing signatures. Any of these mistakes could negatively affect a company’s I-9 compliancy.

The Form I-9 can be downloaded online by visiting the website for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  Companies seeking additional resources for navigating the Form I-9 process may benefit from enlisting the help of digital I-9 compliance software.

Main Components of the Form I-9

The Form I-9 is comprised of three main sections. Each section has a different set of directions, may require different information, and will require the participation of the employee or employer.

The first section of the Form I-9 serves the primary purpose of gathering employee information.  Employees must complete section one of the form by the first day of employment. In addition to providing accurate information, employees must also sign the document, attesting that the information provided is true. If any information is found to be fraudulent, an employee can face penalties for perjury. For this section, an employer’s responsibility is to ensure that employees have completed the section properly.

The second section of the form is to be handled by both the employee and the employer. The Form I-9 requires employees to provide the employer with appropriate identification documents as described via the form’s guidelines within three business days of the employee’s first day on the job. The employer is then obligated to thoroughly examine each document in good faith for authenticity, which could determine the employee’s eligibility to work. Perjury penalties can be issued for individuals presenting fraudulent documents.

The third section of the Form I-9 is primarily the responsibility of the employer. This part can be completed for a change of name, renewal of expiring work authorization, or rehire within three years of the original date on the Form I-9.  Alternatively, a new I-9 could be completed, and there is a robust debate by I-9 professionals as to whether or not there should even be a section 3.

Common Form I-9 Compliance Mistakes

While the form may seem fairly straightforward, many find it to be anything but simple. The guidelines and regulations for correctly filling out the Form I-9 can be a lot of information to take in at one time. For that reason, it is not uncommon for human error to be made when completing the form.  Unfortunately, any human error that affects the integrity of the Form I-9 could be reason to find a company noncompliant.

Mistakes can take a number of different forms, but some of the most common Form I-9 errors can include:

  • Misplaced Forms. Whether an employer misplaces a form or fails to have an employee complete it, both are errors that generally negatively affect compliancy.
  • Inaccurate Information. All information required on the Form I-9 must be completed accurately and truthfully. If any information is found to be intentionally or mistakenly inaccurate, it can affect compliancy. The most commonly made information errors include blank fields, typos, or missing signatures.
  • Identification Document Issues. While the employee is responsible for providing the company with the proper identification documents, employers must be diligent throughout the process. If the employer fails to review, and in some cases retain a copy of the appropriate documents during the timeline stated on the form, it could put the company’s compliance in jeopardy.
  • Filling in the proper information on the Form I-9 is only part of the equation, doing so in the proper time frame is the other. It is crucial for employers to ensure each section of the Form I-9 is completed in the correct time frame to avoid compliancy issues.
  • Follow Up. Some employees may have a citizenship status that is valid at the time of employment but will expire soon after. In cases where an employee’s authorization to work status expires, employers must obtain new proof of eligibility before the expiration date arrives. Not doing so will likely affect a company’s ability to stay I-9 compliant.
  • Document Accessibility and Retention. All Form I-9 documents must be readily accessible in the case of an audit by a government agency – which sometimes are impromptu. In addition, there are guidelines on Form I-9 retention. Employers are required by law to keep an employee’s Form I-9 for three years from the date of termination, at which point most professionals advise destroying or deleting the form.

Resources for Help Filling Out an I-9 Form Correctly

A company that has questions about the Form I-9 itself, the process, or the rules and regulations may want to consider consulting a manual created by the USCIS called the Handbook for Employers M-274.  The manual can be downloaded or printed via the organization’s website.

For those companies looking for additional resources, a great place to start is by utilizing digital I-9 compliance software. This type of program particularly comes in handy for overwhelmed staff as it is designed to be efficient, organized, and detail oriented.

Digital I-9 compliance software is typically designed to facilitate the following:

  • User Friendly Operations. Software programs are made to streamline the Form I-9 process, which includes making the system easily navigable by users.
  • Document Tracking and Retention. This type of software should help employers track soon to expire documents as well as document retention via timely and automatic action reminders. This prompt for action can help employers keep their company in compliance.
  • Centralized Reporting. A software program is only as good as its ability to provide a company with a summary of its current Form I-9 compliance standings. Digital I-9 compliance software can provide this summary at any time management requests it rather than waiting until a scheduled audit. This type of reporting can be instrumental in keeping a company I-9 compliant.

When it comes to filling out an I-9 form correctly, being aware of the form set up, common mistakes, and how to streamline the process with additional resources can all work together to make Form I-9 compliancy a better experience for your company.