What is a Form I-9? Here's What You Need to Know
Hiring new employees can translate into a higher level of administrative requirements. Mandatory paperwork must be completed and retained for each employee, including the Form I-9. Required by federal immigration law, the Form I-9 is a mandatory employee documentation form. Businesses must complete and maintain a copy of this form for each of their employees hired after November 6, 1986. Employers may be required to supply I-9 forms during inspections conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, or the Department of Labor.
What is the Form I-9?
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, requires the completion of the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification to establish that an employee is eligible to work in the United States. In addition to proving employment eligibility, the Form I-9 verifies an employee's identity by requiring the examination of identifying documentation. The form is updated by the USCIS periodically, so employers should verify that they are using the current version of the form at the USCIS Form I-9 website.
What is the Form I-9 used for?
Immigration laws require employers to hire only individuals legally permitted to work in the U.S. These include U.S. citizens, non-citizen nationals, lawful permanent residents, and aliens authorized to work in the country. To comply with these laws, employers must verify the identity and employment authorization of each person hired. The Form I-9 is a record of this required verification process, which businesses complete and retain for each employee.
How do you complete the Form I-9?
The Form I-9 has three sections. Section one is completed by the employee and it requests personal information, citizenship status, or immigration status. This section also includes a signature for preparer and/or translator certification, if applicable. Newly hired employees must be provided with the Form I-9 instructions and asked to complete and sign section one no later than the first day of work for pay. You may not ask an individual who has not accepted a job offer to complete section one. Once completed, the employee must provide appropriate identifying documentation as explained in the instructions.
Section two is completed by the employer or the employer’s authorized representative. This part of the form must be filled out within three business days of the employee's first day of employment. First, review section one to ensure the employee has filled it out properly. Then, using the List of Acceptable Documents provided by the USCIS, complete the following steps while in the physical presence of the employee:
- Ensure any document presented by the employee is on the List of Acceptable Documents, or is an acceptable receipt.
- Physically examine each document to determine if it reasonably appears to be genuine, and related to the employee presenting it.
- Enter the document title, issuing authority, numbers, and expiration date, if any, from the original documents the employee presented.
- Sign and date this section. Do not backdate.
Section three is used for reverification and rehires. If you rehire an employee within three years from the date that the Form I-9 was previously executed, you may either use the employee’s previously executed Form I-9 and complete section three or complete a new Form I-9.
Businesses must keep a completed Form I-9 for every active person on the payroll who is required to complete it.
What information is needed to complete the form?
A single document may be sufficient to prove identity and employment eligibility, such as a U.S. passport or permanent resident card, or an employee may need to present two documents, such as an original Social Security card (not a copy) and a valid driver's license. It is up to the new employee to choose which document(s) to provide — the Form I-9 instructions list which documents are acceptable — but the employer is responsible for verifying that what the employee provides is genuine. If the employee’s document(s) does not reasonably appear to be genuine or to relate to the employee, an employer must reject it and provide the employee with an opportunity to present other documents from the Lists of Acceptable Documents.
Form I-9 Storage
These forms must be maintained for a specified time after an employee stops working for the company. The company may determine the best way to store the forms, but there are specific recordkeeping requirements if they're stored electronically. Regardless of how the completed forms are stored, they must be available for inspection by authorized officials of the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor, and Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division, Immigrant and Employee Rights Section.
What if an employee doesn't fill out a Form I-9?
The consequences of failing to complete a Form I-9 can be severe, including civil or criminal penalties. After stepping up inspection efforts in recent years, ICE is routinely requesting the Form I-9 of each current employee as part of its Notice of Inspection (NOI), but can also ask for the Form I-9 of a terminated employee, within the retention period. The process, initiated by serving an employer with an NOI, will require providing the Form I-9 document in as few as three business days. Failure to do so, and even minor paperwork mistakes, can result in penalties.
In the case of an audit, in addition to the Form I-9, an employer may be asked to provide supporting documentation that may include a copy of the payroll, a list of current employees, Articles of Incorporation, and business licenses.
Substantive and uncorrected technical violations associated with Form I-9 compliance can range from a minimum of $230 to as much as $1,948 per form for a first offense. Penalties increase with subsequent offenses. Other monetary penalties are steeper, including for "knowingly hiring and continuing to employ" violations.
Employers should adhere to the requirements for use, completion, and retention related to Form I-9 to mitigate potential fines, penalties, forfeitures, and debarment of federal contracts.
A thorough review including self-audit procedures can help to avoid errors on the forms. If a mistake is found, the USCIS provides guidance on correcting forms. When an error is discovered in section one, the employer should request that the employee make corrections. Errors in sections two or three should be corrected by the employer. Corrections are made by drawing a line through the incorrect information. The correction should be supplied, along with an initial and date. If there is more than one error, the applicable section of the form may be recompleted and attached to the original form.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are common errors that employers should be aware of when reviewing the I-9. These errors include the following:
- Missing employee name or identification information
- Employee failure to sign and date form
- Employer failure to specify identification documents reviewed
- Missing employer information or signature
Obtaining a completed Form I-9 is a mandatory step when employers bring new hires on board. To help you better ensure that you're meeting this and other regulatory requirements during the onboarding process, a Paychex HR consultant can review your current hiring procedures and offer support as needed.