July 21, 2014

7 Tips to Complete Error-Free I-9 Forms

Since 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) requires employers to complete the I-9 form to verify that all new employees are authorized to work in the United States. An employer who fails to properly fill out the form for each employee can face stiff fines and penalties. These paperwork violations can range from $110 to $1100 in fines, even if all your employees are work authorized.

The Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) has three sections that require employees and employers to complete. Section 1 is completed by the employee and Sections 2 and 3 are completed by the employer (or its authorized representative).

The employer is responsible for ensuring that the form is completed properly, and in a timely manner. The following are 7 basic tips to ensure error-free I-9 forms that will survive government inspection:

1. Valid/Current I-9 Form: On March 8, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS published a new I-9 Form. The new form is largely the same, but several changes were made to make the form easier to read and more user-friendly. You can find the new I-9 Form at http://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-9.

2. Start the I-9 process as early as possible. The I-9 form must be completed within three business days of the employee’s first day of work. However, you may actually start the I-9 process as soon as the new employee accepts your offer for employment.

3. Provide list of documents for I-9 completion: When the job offer is accepted, provide a copy of the I-9 form to the new employee. The I-9 form contains three lists (A, B and C) of documents acceptable as appropriate identification and employment authorization documents. The employee chooses which documents to provide, employers cannot request specific documentation.

The new employee must provide either one original document from List A or one original document from List B (regarding identity) plus one original document from List C (regarding work authorization). If an employee provides a document from List A that meets the (identity and employment authorization) requirements, the employer should not request additional documentation nor should he complete any portion of the List B or List C parts of Section 2 of the I-9 form.

4. Section 1 completion: Ensure that the new employee completes all requested information on Section 1 and signs the form or acknowledges the signature no later than the first day of hire.

5. Review (“examination”) of documents: Employers are responsible for physically review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents. Documents must be acceptable unexpired original documents and information on the documents must verified that in Section 1. When reviewing originals, confirm that they reasonably appear to be genuine. Examine the documentation carefully for obvious errors.

It is also required that the employee be physically present when the employer is examining the documents. Having the employee mail or email their documents or using video conferencing services are not appropriate methods to verify documents and complete the I-9 Form. For remote locations, employers must have an authorized representative to complete the I-9 Form and physically review the appropriate documentation.

If you have established your authorized representatives for I-9 purposes, make sure to provide him with detailed instructions on how to complete the Form I-9. Employers are at risk of fines and other sanctions as employers are ultimately responsible for the actions of the representative filling out Section 2.

6. Checklist: Create a checklist that outlines all the steps the representative should take in completing the I-9 Form. Provide screenshots if possible and samples of properly completed I-9 Forms.

In remote employee hiring situations, verify all remote employee I-9 forms and related paperwork within three days of when the form is due.

7. Train all personnel completing I-9 forms: Proper I-9 training can help companies to avoid major financial penalties should an audit occur. Often the responsibility of completing the an I-9 forms falls to personnel outside the human resources department or the employer place of business. Frequently, these individuals are not familiar with I-9 forms or common compliance procedures. Every person responsible for completing I-9 forms, must be knowledgeable in I-9 compliance to avoid common, but costly violations.

BONUS! The USCIS has a handbook with detailed guidance on the I-9 form, including frequently-asked questions and answers on employment eligibility verification and I-9 forms at the following link: http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/m-274.pdf.

For assistance with your I-9 compliance program, you are invited to contact me at alopez@cowlesthompson.com, 214-672-2162.

The information provided in this article is intended to help you understand basic issues involved in the immigration process, and are offered only for general informational and educational purposes. This information is not offered as, nor does it constitute legal advice or legal opinions. You should not act or rely upon the information in this article without first seeking the advice of an immigration attorney.