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I-9 Compliance FAQs: Everything You Need to Know for 2023
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Workforce Management

I-9 Compliance FAQs: Everything You Need to Know for 2023

Are you keeping up with I-9 compliance requirements? If not, your company could be sitting on a massive liability. In a recent Paycor webinar on Form I-9 compliance, HR = expert Becky Becker gave attendees great insights into the risks facing employers who don’t pay enough attention to their employment eligibility verification obligations. If you think this might mean you, don’t panic. Following are some of the most common Form I-9 errors and how to correct them. If you don’t have time to watch the full webinar, we’ve put together these I-9 FAQs leaders need to know now to ensure employees fill out the I-9 form correctly.

What is the purpose of Form I-9?

The purpose of Form I-9 is to ensure employers are only hiring people who are legally allowed to work in the United States.

When were I-9s first required?

I-9s were created by the passing of IRCA, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which became law in 1986. This law created two primary obligations for employers:

  1. Employers must not knowingly hire undocumented workers or continue to employ them after learning of their undocumented status
  2. Employers must verify employment eligibility through Form I-9. This requirement applies to every employee, full- and part-time, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, except for those hired before November 7, 1986.

What is the current Form I-9?

The current Form I-9, dated 10/21/2019, is available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. The latest form was made mandatory on May 1, 2020. Since its creation in 1986, new I-9 forms tend to be issued every several years. It’s important to note that, while the form says it expires October 31, 2022, it is still in use until further notice.

Who must complete Form I-9?

The form should be used for all new hires and rehires. Existing employees should not complete a new Form I-9 as long as they have a valid I-9 already on file.

How did COVID-19 change I-9 compliance?

In March 2020, the Department of Homeland Security relaxed its standards for in-person I-9 verification, due to COVID-19. Initially a short-term measure, this change has since been extended through the end of July 2023. 

Here’s what the changes mean:

  • Employers with any employees working remotely aren’t required to review employees’ identity and authorization documentation in person. This change originally only applied to workplaces where all employees are remote; however, DHS has extended flexibility to employers who have both in-person and remote employees.
  • Employers may inspect Section 2 of the document remotely (for example over video, fax, or email) within 3 business days of hiring. DHS is proposing this process change become permanent. A decision is expected by the end of 2023.
  • When “normal operations” resume, employees who were onboarded remotely must verify their documents in-person. Employers should go back to the Section 2 “additional information” field if they previously entered “COVID-19,” and add “documents physically examined” with date of inspection.
  • The Department of Homeland Security allowed expired List B documents as a temporary policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers are no longer allowed to accept expired List B documents for I-9 identity verification. Any employees who provided expired List B items were required to provide unexpired documentation by July 31, 2022.

What if employees always work remotely?

Verifying remote employees has long been a struggle for employers and it’s only going to continue as more businesses switch to a remote-first workforce.

Common workarounds include:

  • Using a remote company representative, a trusted agent or lawyer
  • Allowing two remote employees to verify each other’s documents
  • Inviting remote employees for on-site training

What are the penalties for I-9 violations?

Penalties for incorrect or missing I-9 forms can be imposed by ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The penalties for I-9 violations have recently increased. The size of penalties depends on several factors including company size and number of violations. The range of possible penalties is regularly increased and now stands at:

  • For 1-9 paperwork violations in 2022, the penalties range from $252 to $2,507 for the first offense for substantive violations or uncorrected technical errors.
  • The range is $1,161 to $2,322 for second and subsequent paperwork offenses.
  • For recruiting, referral and rehiring unauthorized non-citizens violations, the penalties range from $627 to $5016 for first offenses for each knowingly employed unauthorized workers
  • The penalties range from $5,016 to $25,076 for second and subsequent offenses

If employers try to trick ICE, or ignore credible warnings, they risk serious fines. Companies can also be punished for ‘subsequent offenses’ even if their prior punishment wasn’t in the recent past.

Both the size of fines and the number of inspections have risen fast in previous years. In FY 2019, ICE delivered 6500 Notice of Inspections and reached $14.3 million in fines, penalties and forfeitures.

What are an employer’s responsibilities when completing Form I-9?

The good news is, HR teams aren’t expected to be detectives. You don’t need to put every document under a blacklight. Employers must accept original I-9 documents that reasonably appear to be genuine and relate to the individual presenting the document. See more about I-9 compliance here.

What is the purpose of Section 1 of Form I-9?

Section 1 of the I-9 must be completed by the employee on or before their first day of employment. (Paycor Onboarding enables employees to fill their details in online before their first day, to avoid any issues.)

This section asks employees if they are a U.S. citizen and whether they are authorized to work in the country. An employee must fill in their:

An employee must fill in their:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Citizenship status
  • Work Authorization status

Employers must ensure that employees sign their name and date the form. Any missing information could result in a violation. Telephone number and email address fields are optional.

What are common errors in I-9 Section 1?

Frequently spotted errors in the first section of the I-9 include:

  • Failure to complete Section 1
  • Unchecked box for immigration status
  • Lack of proper signature or date
  • No full address
  • Missing Social Security number (if using E-Verify)

What is the purpose of Section 2 of Form I-9?

Section 2 is the employer’s responsibility. It must be completed within 3 business days of a hire (i.e., if an employee starts on a Monday, Section 2 must be completed by Thursday). Pro tip: write the company name and ID on the top of every document, in case they get separated.

Get familiar with the following lists of acceptable documents:

  • List A (“Documents that establish both identity and employer authorization”)
  • List B (“Documents that establish identity”)
  • List C (“Documents that establish employment authorization”)

Employers must:

  • Examine acceptable document(s) that establish the employee’s identity and employment eligibility
  • Not accept expired documents (although soon to be expiring documents are OK). A receipt for a new Social Security card is an acceptable document, but the new card must be shown within 90 days
  • Fill in document title and number, issuing authority and expiration date in List A or Lists B and C
  • Fill in first date of employment
  • Certify examination of document(s) with signature, name of company rep and company information

What are common errors in I-9 Section 2?

Frequent mistakes found in I-9 form Section 2 include:

  • Failure to complete List A or Lists B and C
  • Failure of company representative to sign Section 2
  • Failure to complete and sign form by 3 days after first day of employment
  • Over-documentation (e.g., completing List C despite a satisfactory List A). This could trigger an investigation by the Immigrant & Employee Rights team within the Department of Justice as it may show the intent to discriminate

What is the purpose of Section 3 of Form I-9?

Section 3 is also the responsibility of the employer and relates to re-verification of expired documents. Usually, this section will be left blank. Re-verification is not required for permanent residence cards, green cards, passports or drivers licenses. If re-verification is required and an employer doesn’t do so, then they are knowingly employing an undocumented worker.

Acceptable documents that need to be re-verified:

  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • Visas

What should employers do if an employee has used a false ID for I-9 verification?

If an employee reveals that they do not have authorization to work or they have provided false documentation, their employment must be terminated. However, if they prove that they now have the correct documentation and their status has been “regularized,” an employer can continue their employment, even if they originally provided false documentation. The employer should complete a fresh I-9 with the new documents and attach it to the old Form I-9 , with a signed and dated explanation.

Beware: If your company has an honesty policy, it should be applied consistently. If you have previously terminated employees when shown evidence of a lie, you may be forced to do this same in this case. Any inconsistency could imply discrimination.

What are common mistakes employers make during the I-9 verification process?

Here are some major no-nos for employers:

  • Don’t ask job applicants to fill out an I-9 until an offer of employment has been made
  • Don’t accept photocopied documents
  • Don’t tell employees which documents to present (even if you’re just trying to be helpful)
  • Do not accept an expired document

Who is responsible for correcting errors on I-9s?

Errors on Forms I-9 should be corrected by whoever completed the form. So, Section 1 errors should be fixed by employees. Errors in Section 2 and Section 3 should be fixed by the employer and ideally the same person who received the documents and signed the certification. If that person no longer works for your company, it’s easiest to fill out a new I-9 (unless only a small change is required).

How can employers correct I-9 mistakes?

When there are multiple errors, it’s best to complete a new form and attach it to the old copy. Attach a note explaining why the changes were made.

  • If you’re adding missing information, add your initials and the date in a different color ink.
  • If information has been written in the wrong list (e.g., a Social Security number is in List B or a driver’s license in List C) draw an arrow to the correct list and add initials and the date, again preferably in different color ink.
  • If you’ve identified over-documentation, cross out unnecessary information and add initials and the date in a different color ink.

Should employers retain I-9 supporting documentation?

Federal law doesn’t require companies to keep copies of supporting documentation, though several state laws list specific documents which should be copied and kept.

Regardless of requirements, it’s always recommended to retain supporting documentation. Making copies and keeping them can help your case in the event of an ICE inspection. For instance, you may have forgotten to write down the expiration date of a driver’s license—keeping a copy of the license means this is only a technical, rather than substantive error, and you’d avoid a penalty.

Keeping supporting documentation will also help facilitate any internal I-9 audits you conduct.

When keeping documents, store them with I-9 itself, separate from personnel files. If you use E-Verify, you should also attach the Work Authorization document.

How long should employers retain I-9s?

Forms I-9 should be retained for all current employees. For former employees, they must be retained for 1 year from the date of termination or 3 years from the date of the original hire, whichever is later.

After the retention period has expired you can purge these documents, but make sure to always get a second opinion, so you’re never put in the position of having to explain to ICE why you accidentally purged the documents they are asking for.

Can ICE conduct an inspection without notifying an employer?

As I-9 documents are kept on-site, rather than sent to the government, federal agents can only conduct an inspection in-person or by requiring that you send them evidence through certified mail. This means you’ll always be informed of any inspection and you’ll have at least 3 days to produce documents. In California and Oregon, employers are required to post notices for employees if there is an inspection.

Why should we conduct an I-9 internal audit?

Internal audits are the best way to determine your liability and uncover errors. This way, you won’t need to worry about an ICE Notice of Inspection. How often you should complete an audit depends mostly on your company size. If you operate in an industry with high staff turnover, like restaurants or manufacturing, you’ll likely require more regular audits than most.

Who should conduct a company’s I-9 internal audit?

Ideally, you’ll want to hire an immigration attorney or trained specialist to conduct your audit. If you keep the process in-house, make sure that the employee in charge of auditing your I-9 forms isn’t the same one who filled them out in the first place.

Why should companies have an immigration compliance policy?

Most companies will have a paragraph in their handbook about immigration compliance, but this just isn’t enough. Creating an official immigration compliance policy will help you act consistently and put you in the best possible position in the event of an unexpected Notice of Inspection from ICE.

If you’re creating an immigration compliance policy, here are the questions you want to answer:

  • Who is in charge of immigration compliance? (This should be a specific name, rather than just “HR”)
  • Does your company retain supporting documentation?
  • Does your company use E-Verify? (In some states, this may be legally required)
  • Who is in charge of your Form I-9 Retention Policy?
  • Who should be contacted in the event of an ICE Notice of Inspection?
  • What is your policy for working with outside contractors?
  • Do you train employer representatives on completing I-9 forms?
  • How often do you conduct internal audits?
  • Who has access to I-9 records?
  • Who is in charge of re-verification procedures for employees with Employment Authorization documents?
  • Is everyone aware that there is zero tolerance for the employment of individuals who cannot comply with work authorization rules?

Paycor is not a legal, tax, benefit, accounting or investment advisor. All communication from Paycor should be confirmed by your company’s legal, tax, benefit, accounting or investment advisor before making any decisions.