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Basics of the I-9 Form

November 5, 2000
Related Topics: Immigration, Featured Article
In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act that soughtto stem the flow of illegal immigration by cutting off the attractive pull ofAmerican jobs. This law penalizes U.S. employers for knowingly hiring orcontinuing to employ foreign nationals who do not have authorization to work inthe U.S.

Since November 7, 1986, U.S. employers and their new hires have had tocomplete Form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification form. This one-page,double-sided form requires that U.S. employers review the work authorizationstatus of each new hire. While the I-9 appears quite simple, failure to complywith federal regulations can lead to costly fines.

The I-9 is split into three sections:

  1. To be completed by the new hire. It requests biographical information andrequests his or her immigration status.

  2. To be completed by the employer. Here the employer indicates whichdocuments the new hire presented to prove work eligibility.

  3. Section three is only completed when a new hire presents documents showingthat he or she has temporary work authorization. In this case, when theexpiration date approaches, the foreign national must come back into HR toproduce proof of extended work authorization. That proof is noted in thissection.

The following is a list of helpful tips to keep in mind when HR staff arecompleting these forms (The I-9 can be downloaded here):

Each new hire must fill out the form

Federal law requires that each new hire complete the I-9. Companies can helpensure this if completion of the I-9 is part of the new hire paperwork. Once anew hire has commenced working, it can be difficult to convince him or her tocome back into HR to take care of this.

Moreover, HR staff should be aware that all new employees must complete theI-9, regardless of their status as a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, ortemporary worker. And if your company has not been having its new hires completethese forms, it should start now.

Make sure the necessary sections are completely filled out

Given today’s emphasis on privacy, many individuals are reluctant to revealtheir social security number and birthdates. However, since this is an officialU.S. form, the new hire must fill the form out in its entirety. Failure toadequately complete the form can lead to fines of $100 per blank space. Thefines can add up quickly, and HR staff should review the section completed bythe employee.

HR staff must not ask for specific documents

To prove authorization to work, the new hire is entitled to present anydocument or combination of documents listed on the back of the I-9. It isabsolutely critical that HR staff not demand specific documents. Toooften, new hires are told to bring in a driver’s license and social securitycard to prove employment eligibility. This is not legal and can lead to anallegation of document abuse and subsequent fines.

Complete the I-9 in a timely manner

IRCA regulations indicate that the first section of the I-9 form be completedprior to or on the start date. The second section, which is completed by HRstaff, can be completed before or within three days after the new hire’s startdate. To simplify matters, employers may want to consider having both sectionscompleted at the same time, prior to the start date. However, new hires have alegal right to produce documents within three days of the start date and must bepermitted to do so if requested.

Track your I-9 forms

Employers should create an I-9 tickler system that tracks the expirationdates of employees who have temporary work authorization. U.S. citizens andpermanent residents (a.k.a., "green card" holders) do not have limitedwork authorization. However, employees who are on temporary visas like H-1Bspecialty occupation workers or F-1 university students on optionalpractical training have expiration dates. These expiration dates must be trackedto prevent the inadvertent employment of people who have lost workauthorization.

What’s the benefit to these painstaking efforts to comply with the law?Minimizing fines. The INS and Department of Labor conduct deliberate and randomaudits of U.S. employers to ensure the law is being followed. Failure tocomplete forms or improper completion of forms can lead to fines of up to $1,000per form. Thus, fines for large companies can quickly reach into thehundreds of thousands of dollars. In March 2000, a Maryland food processingplant was fined $230,000 for failing to satisfy I-9 requirements.

The I-9 system creates a significant paperwork burden for U.S. employers. Butuntil a better system is implemented, U.S. employers must be sure to comply withthese regulations and utilize systems to promote compliance with the law.

SOURCE: They enable companies to complete and track I-9 employment eligibility forms online.

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