What is the I-9 Form and Who Has to Complete it?
The I-9 is a government form owned by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. All employers must have all employees complete the I-9 once on the payroll. This form is mandatory for all employees, U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens.
One thing employers cannot do is pick and choose who completes the I-9. We have heard the following explanations for why employers have only some new hires complete the form:
“I only had employees with foreign sounding names fill it out, just to make sure they could work.”
“I didn’t think U.S. Citizens needed to fill out that form.”
“I know that employee’s family, I know he’s a citizen, he’s okay.”
All of these reasons for not completing an I-9 can open up the employer to civil and even criminal penalties.
How to complete the I-9 Form
The I-9 form includes a list of acceptable documents as part of the form completion process. The employee gets to choose which documents to provide. The employer must see original documents when completing the form, they may not complete it by looking at copies of the documents.
The employer has the responsibility to ensure that the employee has completed everything. Small typos or omissions are technical violations. Examples of technical violations include forgetting to include the middle name, failing to check a box or dating the form.
When an employee’s work authorization expires their I-9 needs to be verified again, either by re-verifying with the original I-9 form, or by completing a new one.
Employers May Not
- May not discriminate against potential or current employees based on national origin, citizenship or immigration status.
- An employer may not request more documents than are required on the I-9 form.
- May not request different documents than are required on the I-9 form.
- May not reasonably reject or refuse to accept genuine-looking documents. They can say, “this document doesn’t look genuine, please bring me another from the I-9 list on the form.” The goal is not to make the employer a fraud detection expert. If it looks reasonable on it’s face, you may accept it.
- May not tell an employee which document to provide. (This prevents lawsuits if the employee didn’t have document A or B but they had C, but didn’t provide it since they were directed to provide A or B.)
- Cannot knowingly hire someone who is not authorized to work in the U.S.
Civil and Criminal Penalties Associated with the I-9
The government can fine employers for errors associated with the I-9 form.
Employers can receive fines for:
- Knowingly hiring someone that is not authorized to work in the U.S.
- For routinely not complying with I-9 verification rules.
- For participating in document fraud.
Criminal penalties can result in jail time for company executives and staff. The employer, company and staff, can be charged when the government believes that they may have engaged in a pattern or practice of hiring, recruiting or referring for a fee, unauthorized workers.
If a violation has occurred just once, the employer may only be fined. Companies with repeat violations can face criminal charges. Also, the government can bring criminal charges for wide-spread practices. The government will assess if everyone, from the executives to HR staff, knew about the violations. There is no shield for the President or CEO of a company for not knowing about the actions of an employee.
When to Call for Assistance
If employers find acceptable documents to be confusing, that is something we can help with.
Williams Immigration can help you with your internal audit so that you can feel secure knowing that your I-9 documents are in order.