For such a short form, the I-9 can cause some real headaches for employers. In fact, it takes a 70-page handbook to explain how to fill out just two pages! A mistake like forgetting to sign one of the sections or missing a deadline might seem like a minor detail, but it can cause a lot of problems and cost you a lot of money.
Every single detail matters if an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent shows up at your door asking to see your records.
ICE audits of Form I-9s have increased exponentially over the last ten years and are expected to continue to rise (PDF). Understanding these audits can go a long way to protecting your business from some serious fines.
In 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The law prohibits employers from hiring anyone who is not legally authorized to work in this country. Employers fill out the Form I-9 to prove they have confirmed that their workers are eligible to work. Under the IRCA, employers must not only fill out Form I-9s for every hire, but they must keep them in their records in case the government asks to see them.
The forms themselves are not very complicated. They only have two sections, and up until recently, many employers haven’t paid them much attention until being forced to by an audit.
The first step in an audit is delivery of a “Notice of Inspection” to the employer. After delivery, the employer has as little as three days to produce Form I-9s for all their employees. Additional paperwork, such as a copy of the payroll or a list of current employees, might also be requested.
Once all of the documents have been turned over, ICE reviews them and notes any discrepancies. If simple technical errors are found, like missing dates or signatures, the employer has ten days to make the corrections.
Bigger discrepancies, called substantive violations, are more difficult to fix. These are things like relying on unacceptable documents for employment verification. They are essentially things that would make hiring an unauthorized worker more likely.
Unless you are a very small company, fines can add up quickly. Generally fines range from $110 to $1,100 for every substantive violation. The range is the same for every technical violation that is not corrected within the ten day period. Additional fines can be assessed if ICE can prove you knowingly hired or continued to employ unauthorized workers.
Officially called Employment Eligibility Verification, the Form I-9 has changed a lot over time. In fact, a new version of the form was unveiled in July 2017. Even the slightest changes in the document can lead to errors.
The list of possible mistakes is long. Here are just a few:
The Slideshare below will show you more common mistakes:
Only the employee can correct mistakes in Section 1, but a company representative can edit Section 2 if they are able to confirm the information. When correcting an I-9:
Probably the best ways to protect your company from an audit is to do regular self-audits of your Form I-9s or to use a third party to manage and maintain your forms electronically. Internal self-audits can find mistakes, but how you correct them can be as important as finding them.
Here is a step-by-step process for conducting an internal audit:
Partnering with a third party vendor like EBI take a lot of the work out of maintaining Form I-9s. EBI’s Form I-9 Solution makes the form an automated part of the on-boarding process. Error messages will pop up as the form is being filled out, which means common errors are completely avoided. The system also stores the forms electronically so they can be produced with just the push of a button should an audit take place.
You can learn more about the Form I-9 from our definitive guide.
Jennifer Gladstone is a news anchor and journalist with more than 20 years of experience in front of the camera. She's worked in several markets, large and small, and has performed nearly every task needed in a newsroom. As EBI’s Screening News Editor, she keeps EBI’s customers and blog subscribers up to date on the latest screening news and legislative alerts affecting companies of all sizes.