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5 Things Employers Should Know About the Form I-9 Process

Bridge Team Member

There’s no doubt that talent teams have never-ending to-do lists, especially as we adapt to new ways of working and evolving challenges among multiple generations. One task that you’d like to cross off before year-end? Streamlining and organizing your immigration process.

Although this may sound like a monumental task, you can’t go another year with a chaotic or newly emerging immigration process. Something must be done; you don’t want critical responsibilities to fall through the cracks.

Like all large projects, it’s best (and less overwhelming) to tackle this step-by-step.

In this article, we’re going to explore one of those steps: The Form I-9 process. Understanding the purpose and importance of an I-9 will better help you understand what’s necessary as you standardize your internal processes.

Understanding the In’s and Out’s of Form I-9s

In the United States, all employers--regardless of size--must complete Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, confirming the employee’s identity and employment authorization to work.

Legally, employers cannot hire or employ a worker without verifying the worker’s identity and authorization to work on the Form I-9, whether the prospective employee is a U.S. citizen or not. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) manages this process.

Typically completed during the onboarding process, the employee (whether a citizen or non-citizen)  must:

  • Attest to their identity and employment authorization; and
  • Provide appropriate documentation demonstrating both identity and employment authorization, such as a passport, a driver’s license, or a voter’s registration card.

Next, the employer should examine the presented documents, confirming that they reasonably appear to be authentic. Employers also must retain completed Form I-9s “for three years after the date of hire, or one year after the date employment ends, whichever is later.”

Why Are Form I-9s Important?

Because Form I-9s are mandated by federal immigration law, employers can face significant fines and penalties if they fail to comply with governmental regulations. From hiring unauthorized workers to making errors on the form itself, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can audit your I-9 records, confirming that your hiring practices comply with federal law.

And, the government is increasing Form I-9 audits and inspections, putting employers on their heels if they’re not on top of their game. Over the past couple of years, for example, ICE has audited almost 6,000 employers, increasing Form I-9 inspections by 375 percent. In 2019, audited employers faced a total of $14 million in fines. And, since ICE can audit your I-9 records with only three days’ notice, this is not a project to put off until tomorrow.

Monetary penalties for knowingly hiring and employing undocumented workers range from $375 to $16,000 per violation, with repeat offenders receiving penalties at the higher end. Penalties for technical violations, which include failing to produce a Form I-9, range from $110 to $1,100 per violation

Some Common Mistakes Found on Form I-9s

To help employers complete their Form I-9s correctly, the USCIS features a list of common mistakes to avoid on their website. Since each mistake can result in a different penalty, it’s best to write legibly and/ check for typos when you proofread your I-9s (oh and proofread again!). 

Here are some common mistakes that you should watch for:

  • Employee fails to list all last names, such as maiden name
  • Employee forgets to sign or date the attestation
  • Employee does not check the box indicating that they are a non-citizen or citizen
  • Employer fails to notate the document title, issuing authority, and expiration dates of the acceptable documents provided
  • Employer fails to sign or date the certification

When completing the form, don’t use abbreviations; spell everything out. Confirm that all sections are completed and that all appropriate boxes are checked. Also, make sure that copies of acceptable documents are clear and readable.

Finally, use the correct version of Form I-9. According to the USCIS, “[t]o determine whether you are using the correct version of Form I-9, look at the revision date printed on the bottom left corner of the form, and not the expiration date printed at the top of the form. Currently, only the forms showing the following revision date are valid: Rev. 10/21/2019.”

How to Correct a Form I-9

When reviewing your completed I-9s, and you notice a mistake, the USCIS has proposed several ways to correct your forms, helping you to avoid future penalties or fines. For example, if you notice an error on one line of the form, draw a line through the incorrect information. Then, enter the correct information and initial and date the added material.

If you notice multiple mistakes, complete a new Form I-9 and attach it to the original. It’s also best to include a written note explaining why the form needed correction, in the case of a future audit or investigation.

Do not use—under any circumstances—any type of correction fluid. Doing so may lead to further liability under federal law.

Do I Need to File My Form I-9s?

Unlike other federal forms, you don’t have to file your completed Form I-9s with the government. However, as an employer, you are required to store and retain copies of your I-9s separate from your other personnel files. If you have numerous employees, this can become unwieldy. For this reason, the federal government permits you to keep digital copies of the I-9.

However, even with electronic or digital storage files, processes can become convoluted and burdensome. This is where it pays to automate your immigration processes, including your I-9 retention and storage.

So, how are you maintaining your Form I-9s, making sure they meet federal requirements? How are you automating the storage and retention of these required files? We delve into how to digitalize your I-9 processes, making immigration compliance more streamlined for both you and your talent team.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult a Bridge-affiliated partner attorney or another qualified legal professional.


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