Form I-9 Employment Verification Guide

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 aimed to create a fair and legal work environment in the United States. One crucial aspect of this law is ensuring employers hire only individuals authorized to work in the country to prevent employment opportunities from becoming an incentive for illegal immigration. This is where Form I-9, the Employment Verification document, comes in.

In this legal framework, employers must check all new hires’ identity and employment authorization. This verification process is facilitated by the Employment Eligibility Verification (the I-9 form). Since November 6, 1986, completing this form has been mandatory for all employers bringing new staff on board.

IMPORTANT! Failing to obey these rules can result in penalties for the U.S. employer!

This guide will help you understand Form I-9 as a U.S. employer. We’ll provide a step-by-step walkthrough of the completion process, explain the instructions in detail, and address any questions. This guide allows you to follow a compliant hiring process while adhering to legal requirements.

What Is Form I-9?

According to I-9 Central, Form I-9 is a mandatory document mandated by federal law in the United States that serves as a critical tool for businesses to check the legal eligibility of all new employees.

USCIS manages the document. In other words, if you want to complete it, find the I-9 in PDF format on the USCIS website, but don’t submit it to USCIS or ICE. Keep it in your company’s files. 

The Employment Eligibility Verification functions as a two-pronged verification system: firstly, it confirms the employee’s identity, ensuring they are who they claim to be, and secondly, it verifies their employment authorization, guaranteeing their legal right to work within the United States.

Who Must Complete Form I-9?

The Employment Eligibility Verification process applies to all employers regardless of company size or industry. It encompasses all new hires, including U.S. citizens who must prove their identity, noncitizen nationals like those from U.S. territories, lawful permanent residents with green cards, and authorized aliens with temporary work visas or permits.

By completing and retaining Form I-9 for a designated 3-year period, employers comply with legal requirements and ensure they have a workforce authorized to work legally in the United States, with the forms also being subject to inspection by government agencies upon request.

What Do Employers Do with Completed I-9 Forms?

Completing Form I-9 for a new employee is just one step. Now, you are responsible for managing this document securely and being prepared for potential inspections. Unlike other USCIS forms, I-9 isn’t sent to any government agency. You must keep it on file by creating a secure storage system (paper or electronic) to ensure these documents are safe and readily accessible.

For How Long Must Employers Keep I-9 Forms on File?

Federal law dictates a specific timeframe for how long you need to retain completed Forms I-9. There are two key dates to keep in mind:

Three Years from The Employment Date

This is the minimum retention period for all completed Forms I-9. You must keep their completed form on file from the day you hire someone for at least three years.

One Year After Employment Ends

Things get a little more nuanced when an employee leaves your company, regardless of the reason for their departure. In this case, you must keep their Form I-9 on file for at least one year after their last day of employment. Here’s the twist: whichever date falls later becomes the new minimum retention period.

For example, if you hire someone and they leave after two years, you’d typically need to keep their Form I-9 for three years from their hire date (the first minimum). However, since their termination falls within that three-year window, you’d need to keep it for one year after their last day (the second minimum). In this scenario, one year after their termination becomes the new minimum retention period.

IMPORTANT! U.S. employers must be prepared for the possibility of government inspections. Authorized officials from the DHS, DOL, or the DOJ may request to see your completed I-9 forms for all your employees. A well-organized system allows you to access and present these forms during an I-9 inspection promptly.

What to Know Before Completing the I-9 Form: General Instructions

While Form I-9 plays a crucial role in verifying an employee’s eligibility to work, it’s important to remember that the hiring process must be fair and free from discrimination. So, let’s consider some basic considerations regarding ethics, I-9 form costs, and timelines.

Particular I-9 Form Considerations Before You Begin Filling Out the Employment Eligibility Verification

First, you must know that Form I-9 (section 1, dedicated to the employee) must be completed on their first work day. You, as the employer, will have to check their information. 

The next thing you must know is that federal law prohibits employers from considering national origin, citizenship, or immigration status when making hiring decisions. This applies to the entire recruitment process, from reviewing applications to extending job offers and even during termination procedures. Using this information in any employment decision can be considered discriminatory.

Another issue relates to Form I-9 after the offer, meaning not using Form I-9 as a reason to hold back a job offer. If you suspect someone might not be eligible to work based on initial discussions, you can’t simply avoid offering them the job. Form I-9 is only completed once a candidate has accepted your job offer.

IMPORTANT! There’s a common misconception that the E-Verify system, which allows employers to verify employee eligibility electronically, replaces Form I-9. This is not the case. Completing, retaining, and storing Form I-9 for every new hire remains mandatory, even if your company uses E-Verify as an additional verification tool. Consider it a complementary measure to ensure you only hire a legal workforce.

What Current I-9 Form Edition Must You Complete?

The Edition Date on Form I-9 is an important detail that ensures you’re using the most current version of the document.

The current edition of the Employment Eligibility Document is 08/01/23, indicating that the latest version of the form was published on August 1, 2023.

To ensure compliance with the newest I-9 edition date, look for it at the bottom of the page on the Form I-9 itself and the accompanying instructions. It will be listed in a standard date format using the abbreviation “MM/DD/YY.”

IMPORTANT! USCIS periodically updates Form I-9 to reflect changes in immigration laws or verification procedures. Using the most recent edition, you can be confident you’re completing the form accurately and complying with current legal requirements.

How Much Do You Have to Pay for the I-9 Form?

Completing Form I-9 is free. No costs, hidden charges, or government fees are associated with the Employment Eligibility Verification process and document. It makes it an accessible tool for employers of all sizes to verify their workforce’s qualifications to work in the U.S.

In What Language Must Employers Complete Form I-9?

In most circumstances, you must fill out an I-9 in English

Only employers in Puerto Rico can use the Spanish-language version of Form I-9 instead of the English version. However, any employer can use the Spanish form and instructions as a translation tool to assist their employees.

Can You Fill the I-9 Form Electronically?

While Form I-9 is a fillable form where answers can be typed directly into the document, there’s a catch. Employers and employees using this format must still print and sign the completed form manually.

Electronically signing or affixing a signature is prohibited because the fillable format doesn’t meet DHS standards for electronically generated, stored, and retained Form I-9 systems. 

Failing to follow Homeland’s rules leads to fines and other penalties.

How to Fill Form I-9: A Step-by-Step Guide

Now, we have reached the trickier part of our I-9 form: how to fill out the I-9 document and what evidence you – the employer – and your employees must attach to the Employment Eligibility Verification file. 

Form I-9 might seem complex at first glance, but fret not! We’ll offer the instructions and step-by-step procedure so you and your new employee know what to do, section by section.

Step 1: The Employee Completes Section 1 of the Employment Eligibility Verification

This is the heart of the form. Here, the new employee fills out their respective information,  attesting to their legal right to work in the U.S. (present proof).

IMPORTANT! Employers may sometimes verify documents remotely through an authorized DHS alternative procedure. They can indicate this in Section 2.

As you can easily understand, Form I-9 is a two-part document, and your new hire fills the first (Section 1). Think of it as their personal statement, officially called an attestation. Here’s what they must provide:

  • Basic information: their full name, address, email address, and phone number – all the usual contact details.
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security Number (SSN): This is required information, but remember, it shouldn’t be used for any other purpose besides employment verification.
  • Immigration status: Your new employee will identify their legal status in the U.S. The options typically include U.S. citizen, noncitizen national (like someone from a U.S. territory), green card holder, or authorized alien.
  • Signature and date: Once they’ve filled out all the information, they must sign and date the form to verify its accuracy.

The key takeaway is that your new employees must complete and submit this section of Form I-9 to you no later than their first day of employment.

Step 2: The Employer Completes Section 2 of the Employment Eligibility Verification

Section 2 of Form I-9 focuses on document verification, where the employer confirms the new hire’s eligibility to work in the U.S.

Besides the basic information provided in Section 1, employees must present documentation that establishes their identity and legal right to work in the United States. U.S. USCIS offers two options for employees to fulfill this requirement:

  • List A includes documents verifying identity and employment authorization in one document. For example, a U.S. Passport or a Green Card would fall under this category.
  • List B combined with List C: If an employee doesn’t have a document from List A, they can present one document from these two separate lists. For instance, an employee might show a state-issued driver’s license (List B) and a Social Security Card (List C) to satisfy this requirement.

The table below provides a more detailed look at the acceptable documents from each list that USCIS will consider. Employers must offer this list to employees as a physical printout or a hyperlink to the specific page on the form itself (page 2 of the Employment Eligibility Verification, List of Acceptable Documents). You don’t need to keep a copy of this page with the completed Form I-9 for each employee.

USCIS List of Acceptable I-9 Documents

List Description Examples
List A
Establishes both identity and employment authorization
  • U.S. passport
  • Permanent Resident Card
  • Employment Authorization Document with a photograph
  • Foreign passport with stamp or visa (I-551)
  • A valid foreign passport, accompanied by a U.S. government Arrival/Departure document (I-94), indicating temporary work authorization granted due to an individual's specific immigration status or humanitarian parole program participation.
  • Passport from Micronesia or the Marshall Islands with a U.S. entry/departure record (I-94 or I-94A)
List B
Establishes identity
  • Driver's license or state I.D. card
  • I.D. card issued by federal, state, or local government agencies (with photo)
  • School ID card with a photograph
  • Voter's registration card
    U.S. Military card or draft record
  • Military dependent's I.D. card
  • Native American tribal document
  • U.S. Citizen ID Card
  • Driver's license issued by a Canadian government authority
  • Applicants younger than 18 who can't provide any of the documents listed earlier can use school records (report cards or transcripts), medical records (from a clinic, doctor, or hospital), or daycare/nursery school records as alternatives (for a temporary period).
List C
Establishes employment authorization
  • Social Security card (unrestricted)
  • State Department birth certificate (Forms DS-1350, FS-545, or FS-240)
  • Original or certified birth certificate
  • Native American tribal document
  • U.S. Citizen ID card (I-179)
  • Employment authorization document

IMPORTANT! When verifying employee documents, ensure all those with expiration dates are current and haven’t expired. The extensions granted by the issuing authority are considered valid, so they don’t represent an issue. You can refer to the USCIS Handbook for Employers (M-274) for further details and a wider range of acceptable document examples.

Step 3: The Translator/Preparer Completes Supplement A of the Employment Eligibility Verification for the Employee

Supplement A caters to situations where an employee hires a preparer or translator to assist them in completing Section 1. If this is the case, the preparer or translator must complete and sign this page, which will be retained along with the employee’s Form I-9.

IMPORTANT! If no preparer or translator is involved, you, the employer, don’t need to print, provide, or keep this page with the Form I-9.

Step 4: The Employer Completes Supplement B of the Employment Eligibility Verification (If Necessary)

This final section, Supplement B (formerly known as Section 3), comes into play under specific circumstances. It’s used to document situations where an employee’s employment authorization needs to be re-verified or, in some cases, if their work authorization document requires verification. 

You may also choose to use this page to document the rehire of an employee. Similar to Supplement A, this page doesn’t need to be printed, provided, or retained with the employee’s Form I-9 unless one of these verification scenarios applies.

I-9 Inspections: What to Expect Regarding Non-compliance Penalties

The process starts with an official notification called a Notice of Inspection from Homeland Security Investigations. This notice gives you at least three business days to gather and present the requested Form I-9 documents for current or former employees (whichever retention period applies). During the inspection, HSI agents will review your company’s I-9 forms for correctness and completion and employees’ valid documentation.

Here is what can happen if you fall short of your duty to fill out and file the Employment Eligibility Verification:

  • Knowingly hiring or continuing to employ someone not authorized to work in the U.S. can trigger exceptional fines and get the employee in trouble.
  • Leaving Form I-9 uncompleted for your new hires is a violation and can lead to penalties.
  • Tampering with or knowingly accepting fraudulent documents is a grave offense and usually results in fines.
  • If government officials come knocking and you can’t produce the required I-9 paperwork for your employees, you could face penalties, whose severity can increase if you have repeated violations.

Now, before you panic about minor mistakes, there’s a bit of good news. For what is called “technical violations” of I-9 requirements, there’s no immediate penalty. They might include things like:

  • The employee forgets to date the form on their first day.
  • Missing the start date on the form.
  • You take more than three business days to complete your section.
  • You did not record the rehire date on the appropriate section of the form for returning employees.
  • The employee left your title, name, or address blank.

When these technical violations occur, you will be notified and given 10 business days to fix the errors. If you, as an employer, can demonstrate that you made a genuine effort to comply with I-9 rules (known as “good faith compliance“), you have a strong defense against any penalties the government might try to impose. In such cases, the burden falls on the government to prove that you didn’t act in good faith.

However, fines and even criminal prosecution may come into play for more substantial issues, like knowingly hiring unauthorized workers.

The best way to avoid these headaches is to ensure your I-9 forms are completed accurately and retained according to the guidelines. If you’re unsure about any aspect of the I-9 process, if you just started a business and want to hire a team, work with an immigration attorney or human resources professional to ensure compliance and stay out of trouble with Homeland Security.

Do You Need Help with the I-9 Verification for Eligible New Employees?

Hiring a new team is exciting, but complying with the I-9 verification to a tee can feel overwhelming, especially for new businesses. At ImmigrationDirect, we understand the burden of I-9 compliance and can help you ensure an error-free onboarding process.

From equipping you with I-9 training for accurate completion to offering compliance assistance to identify and address potential issues in your current procedures, our firm provides a comprehensive suite of services. We’ll also guide you on document retention rules and provide expert legal advice to answer your questions about your employees’ work visas and permits, USCIS regulations, avoiding illegal hires, and more. 

Don’t let the I-9 form slow down your new company or hires. Contact us today to discuss your needs and gain the confidence to avoid costly fines and legal issues. We’re here to help your business thrive!

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