Changing immigration laws add complexity to I-9 compliance requirements

by Blake Forrester April 27, 2011

If you are a hiring manager at a corporation or the owner of a small or medium business you probably already know just how important it is to maintain compliance with Form I-9 requirements of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) department. The purpose of Form I-9 is to verify the employment eligibility of people seeking to work in the U.S. All businesses, regardless of their size are required to verify the identity and citizenship status of every employee seeking work. They are then required to fill out and maintain a Form I-9 for each employee in their payroll. Companies are not required to submit the filled out form to any government agency. Instead, they are supposed to maintain a filled out I-9 attesting to the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S. The CIS can demand the documents at any time and failure to produce the documents can result in stiff penalties and even seizure of business assets.

As you probably know, just complying with these requirements is hard enough. Going forward though, things could become even harder because of all of the changes that are taking place at the state and federal level these days. The Department of Homeland Security for instance, last year revised its rules relating to I-9 compliance. The new rules require changes to documentation, record keeping and audit trails with regards to I-9 forms. Employers are now allowed to create and retain I-9 forms in electronic format, but there are confusing new requirements relating to the manner in which such electronic forms are to be created, stored, accessed and viewed. Adding to the complexity is the fact that companies need to maintain clear audit trails when converting existing paper based I-9 forms to electronic format.

If you are a HR or hiring manager with a government agency or a company that provides contract services for the government you may be also be subject to new E-Verify requirements. In many states, even private employers are now required to use the E-Verify system as part of the I-9 process. Just two weeks ago for instance, lawmakers in Georgia approved a bill that would require all employers, in the state, regardless of size to use the E-Verify system. The E-Verify system is an employment verification database that is maintained by the DHS. It allows employers to quickly verify the authenticity of Social Security Numbers of employees and to check their immigration status and their eligibility to work in the U.S. Many governments are mandated to use the E-Verify system these days.

The rapid-fire changes that are taking place in this space are being driven by growing calls for immigration reform. The changes are making it increasingly harder for companies to remain on top of I-9 requirements. However, failure to comply can mean serious consequences. Under the new rules, hiring an ineligible worker can attract fines of up to $5,500 per violation. Incomplete or improperly filled I-9 forms can result in fines of $1,100 while knowingly committing document fraud can mean fines of over $3,200 per document. The growing calls for immigration reform at both the state and federal levels are also leading to much greater scrutiny of I-9 compliance which means that companies are under much greater pressure to comply than they were before.

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