Every U.S. employer is obliged to verify the identity and employment eligibility of new employees within three days of the date of hire. In order to comply with this requirement, employers need to review acceptable documents that prove both the identity and work authorization of employees as well as to complete the Form I-9.
Completing this form may seem as a straightforward process, but complicated array of rules, set timelines, and I-9 inspections cause verification of employment eligibility to be very complex. Despite of this, employers can’t afford to overlook this step. Not achieving and maintaining I-9 compliance subjects them to large fines and penalties, especially in the light of measurably increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audits.
I-9 Audits on the Rise
Failure to comply with immigration laws, including incorrect Forms I-9 and knowingly employing unauthorized workers, results in criminal and civil penalties. According to ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit (HSI), I-9 audit notices were served to more than 5,200 businesses around the country since January 2018, as a result of a two-phase nationwide operation. Such increase of audits is a final call for employers to have a Form I-9 compliance strategy in place to identify and correct any I-9 mistakes and prepare for a potential audit.
During an I-9 audit, ICE not only reviews I-9 records for substantive and technical errors which can generate fines, but also examines the employer’s hiring policies and procedures, staff training, payroll records, and other indications of possible legal violations. In case of I-9 violations, ICE has a wide range of potential penalties that it can assess, including criminal penalties. Therefore, employers need to be more careful than ever when it comes to their employee verification policies and procedures.
Most Common Compliance Mistakes
There are many common mistakes and human errors that can be made while completing and maintaining I-9 records. This is not surprising given that the form comes with enough rules and regulations to fill nearly 70 pages long handbook.
To avoid the potentially high costs of an I-9 violation caused by non-compliance, employers should keep some of the most common I-9 processing errors in mind:
- Not completing the form within 3 business days;
- Not re-verifying employment eligibility of employees with temporary citizenship status;
- Accepting invalid documentation as a form of identification;
- Improper maintenance of I-9 forms of existing employees;
- Missing dates or signatures;
- Not supervising new employees filling out Section 1;
- Allowing untrained staff to administer I-9s;
- Not conducting an internal I-9 audit;
- Not making copies of I-9 form; and
- Making corrections without initializing and dating them.
What Can Employers Do
Ensuring I-9 compliance calls for constant caution. Even simple mistakes in record-keeping or in filling out an I-9 form could result in severe fines and criminal penalties. However, there are some tips to help employers ensure their employment practice and I-9 management are fully compliant with the law:
Conducting Voluntary Internal Audits
When it comes to I-9 compliance, internal audits are an excellent way to detect and correct errors such as paperwork violations, missing I-9s, expired work authorizations, fraudulent documents, and other issues. Based on the results obtained, employers can recognize more serious issues and address them as quickly as possible. Such approach can not only reduce fines and penalties but also establish a good faith defense in the event of an ICE audit.
Staying Up-to-date with I-9 Legislation
Since every employer in the United States needs to have an I-9 Form filled out, any new changes made to the form can have a far-reaching effect. So, it is necessary for employers to keep up with new guidelines and use the most updated version of the form to avoid jeopardizing their businesses.
Conducting Regular Training
Employees involved in I-9 verification need to go through regular trainings that include, among other things, instructions on how to complete the I-9 Form, reverification practices, I-9 Form retention rules, fraud prevention and detection instructions, and training aimed to prevent discrimination or other prohibited actions.
E-Verify is an internet based system that allows employers to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S. Even though E-Verify does not prevent audits or inspections from taking place, by participating in this program employers show they are being proactive as a company to keep their workforce legal. E-verify statistics show that 98.88% of submissions are automatically confirmed as work authorized.
Automating I-9 Verification
Paperless I-9 management eliminates cumbersome documents that are difficult to process, store, and audit. With automated I-9 verification employers reduce processing errors, ensure that no incorrect or incomplete information is entered, get reminders for re-verification and notification of expiring I-9 documents, conduct controlled audits, easily purge old and obsolete I-9s, and all of this in an environmentally friendly way.
High Time for Establishing Compliance
While I-9 compliance may seem simple, it is full of obstacles that can cause serious issues for employers. ICE Notice of Inspection can come at any time and employers need to be ready to provide I-9 documentation within three business days, so organization is essential for maintaining compliance.
In light of ICE’s increased scrutiny, employers need to make sure they comply with the range of immigration laws as soon as possible. The best approach for maintaining compliance includes measures such as internal audits of I-9s, updating employment eligibility verification practices and procedures, establishing ongoing I-9 training programs, participating in E-Verify, and opting for an automated I-9 solution. It is crucial that employers prioritize compliance today to prevent problems in the future.