The Employment Eligibility Verification form, also known as Form I-9, is a form that the U.S. government requires for each employee. I-9 information and the supporting documentation it requires proves two things:
- Employees are who they say they are.
- Employees are authorized to work in the U.S.
The I-9 includes three sections—one for the employee and two for the employer. Each new employee must complete and sign the first section by the end of their first day. Employers must complete and sign the second section by each new employee’s third day of work.
What is the purpose of the I-9 form?
The I-9 serves two primary purposes. It verifies each employee’s identity and eligibility to work in the United States. U.S. law requires employers to fill out I-9s for each employee. That goes for U.S. citizens and noncitizens.
Who needs Form I-9?
If you have any employees, you need to complete and keep I-9s for each of them. Even if you are your only employee, you will still need to complete an I-9. You do not need to complete I-9s for independent contractors. You may not have the information or documentation you need to complete an I-9 for a new employee. But you should avoid reclassifying that employee to an independent contractor to avoid I-9 requirements. There are stiff penalties for doing so—the government could ban you from doing business in the U.S.
How to fill out an I-9 form step by step
Form I-9 is straightforward and includes three sections. Employees fill out Section 1, and employers fill out Section 2. Employers only use Section 3 in unique circumstances.
Section 1: Employee section
Section 1 is for employee information and attestation. In Section 1, employees provide basic information about their identity, including their
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
- Email address (optional)
- Telephone number (optional)
- Citizenship status
Citizenship status causes the most confusion in Section 1 of the I-9. The form asks employees to check one of four citizenship options. They must attest, under penalty of perjury, that they are
- A citizen of the United States
- A noncitizen national of the United States
- A lawful permanent resident
- An alien authorized to work
Noncitizen nationals of the United States include employees born in American Samoa, some former citizens of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and some children of noncitizen nationals born abroad.
A lawful permanent resident is a noncitizen who permanently and legally lives in the U.S. Lawful permanent residents usually have visas that document their status. Asylees and refugees are not considered lawful permanent residents for the purposes of the I-9. Lawful permanent residents must include their seven- to nine-digit Alien Registration Number or USCIS Number.
Aliens authorized to work don’t qualify for the first three categories but are authorized to work in the U.S. Those who select this option must indicate in the space provided when their employment authorization expires. If the employee’s employment authorization documentation does not include an expiration date, the employee should enter “N/A” in the space.
Asylees, refugees, those with a Temporary Protected Status, and other unique circumstances fall under this category. Aliens authorized to work should include one of three document numbers to support their selection:
- Alien Registration Number/USCIS Number
- Form I-94 Admission Number
- Foreign Passport Number, including the country of issuance
Once the employee completes Section 1, they can sign and date the I-9. Make sure new hires complete this section by the end of their first day of work. The I-9 is available in English and Spanish. If needed, a translator, family member, or friend can help them prepare Section 1.
Section 2 – Employer review
Section 2 is for employer review and verification. Employers must complete Section 2 by the third business day after an employee begins work. Section 2 includes three subsections. In the first subsection, employers copy the employee’s name and citizenship or immigration status from Section 1.
I-9 form documentation requirements
In the second subsection, employers review employee documents that provide proof of identity and authorization to work. The subsection includes List A, List B, and List C. Employees must provide either one document from List A or one document from both List B and List C.
Acceptable documents under List A include:
- A U.S. passport or U.S. passport card
- A Permanent Resident Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card (Form I-551 or green card)
- A foreign passport with evidence of permanent resident status
- An employment authorization document that includes a photograph (Form I-766)
- A foreign passport and Form I-94 or an unexpired I-94A for nonimmigrants authorized for a specific employer
- A passport from the Federated States of Micronesia with Form I-94 or I-94A
- A passport from the Republic of the Marshall Islands with Form I-94 or I-94A
List B documents establish an employee’s identity. Acceptable documents under List B include:
- A driver’s license or ID card that includes a photograph and identifying information (e.g., name, date of birth, gender, height, eye color, address)
- A school ID with a photograph
- A voter registration card
- A U.S. military card or draft record
- A military dependent’s ID card
- A U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner card
- A Native American tribal document
- A driver’s license issued by a Canadian government authority
In List B, employees under age 18 who cannot present the above documents may provide:
- A report card or school record
- A clinic, doctor, or hospital record
- A day-care or nursery school record
List C documents establish an employee’s authorization to work in the U.S. Acceptable documents under List C include:
- A Social Security card without endorsement that limits employment authorization
- A U.S. Department of State birth abroad certification (Form FS-545)
- A U.S. Department of State report of birth (Form DS-1350)
- A birth certificate with an official seal from the state, county, municipality, or U.S. territory
- A Native American tribal document
- A U.S. Citizen ID Card (Form I-197)
- A Resident Citizen ID (Form I-179)
- An employment authorization issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Employers cannot accept photocopies of documents for List A, B, or C. Only the original copies comply with Section 2 rules.
Once you complete Section 2’s first two subsections, an authorized representative of your business must complete the certification subsection. Your representative must provide their name, title, signature, and business contact information in the certification subsection. The representative must also examine the provided documents and verify that they’re “genuine and relate to the employee named.” Finally, the representative must confirm the employee is authorized to work in the U.S. to the best of their knowledge.
The certification subsection can be a little daunting. But you don’t have to be an immigration law expert or attorney to comply with this section. If you make a good-faith effort to complete this section and honestly review the documents provided, you meet the certification requirements.
Section 3 – Reverification and rehires
Section 3 is for reverification and rehires. You are not required to fill out this section for most new hires. You may complete Section 3 under the following circumstances:
- When an employee’s employment authorization expires.
- When you rehire a terminated employee whose original employment authorization documents have expired.
- When an employee’s name changes.
When reviewing Section 3 documents, you should evaluate them with the same good-faith standard you used to review Section 2.
At this point, you have what it takes to complete I-9s, but be careful. If you don’t fill them out correctly or disregard them altogether, you could face steep penalties from the federal government.
Typically, the government uncovers I-9 problems through an I-9 audit. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducts I-9 audits as one of its ordinary responsibilities. ICE may receive a tip that leads them to inspect a company’s I-9s. But more often, ICE conducts I-9 audits with no reason to believe it will find any violations.
Unfortunately, ICE has broad authority to issue penalties for big and small I-9 violations. ICE can issue criminal and civil penalties for I-9 violations. Typically, these penalties fall into two categories: knowing violations and technical violations.
A knowing violation means the employer expressly understands that it employs individuals unauthorized to work in the U.S. Technical violations are for filling out I-9 forms incorrectly. ICE issues much harsher penalties for knowing violations, but technical violations add up if ICE finds consistent errors in your I-9 process.
Knowing penalties can range from $573 to $20,130 per violation. Technical violations can range from $230 to $2,292 per violation.
“Per violation” is the key phrase in these penalties. Whether it’s a knowing violation or a technical violation, penalties stack on each other. If your company grows and you have uncorrected I-9 errors, the fines can multiply. Although these penalties can be high, following some best practices can keep you on the right track when it comes to I-9 compliance.
I-9 best practices
Following some basic I-9 best practices can help protect you if ICE audits your business. Simply showing that you follow an I-9 policy can lower your overall penalty if you have made unintentional mistakes.
I-9 best practices include:
- Keeping and filing all I-9 forms and making copies of all employee documentation for each employee.
- Keeping I-9s and document copies for at least three years after the employee’s hire date or one year after the employee’s termination date.
- Keeping I-9s and I-9 documents separate from personnel files so that you can access them easily in the event of an ICE audit.
- Being prepared to produce all I-9 and I-9 documents with 72 hours of an ICE request.
- Conducting an internal I-9 audit annually to find any I-9 documents that are expiring and need updating or need destroying. You don’t need to keep I-9s and documentation longer than required.
Complying with I-9 requirements
All potential job applicants should verify that they’re authorized to work in the United States. Employment authorization is the most basic job requirement for any employee working in the U.S. Form I-9 is your proof that your employees comply with this statement.
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