Form I-9: A Deceptively Simple Form that Can Have Major Consequences

by Alexis Cameron June 1, 2011

Since 1986, all United States employers have been required to complete a Form I-9 when hiring an employee. This form serves to verify that the employee in question is lawfully permitted to be employed in the United States. While the latest version of the I-9 form is only one page long, it contains a minefield of areas of potential liability for employers that can have very real financial or even criminal consequences.

The I-9 process is deceptively simple. The potential employee fills out the first portion of the form, explaining how he or she is authorized to work in the U.S. The employer then reviews the documents provided by the employee to establish his or her eligibility to work (i.e. a U.S. passport, or an Employment Authorization Document issued to a foreign national) and then collects information from the documents and signs the form. However, the main reason that the I-9 form is so complicated is that the I-9 process puts the burden on employers to understand the complicated thicket of immigration laws and regulations governing when a foreign national can be employed in the U.S., and what documents are acceptable to demonstrate this.

Completed I-9 forms are not submitted directly to a government agency, but must instead be retained by the employer in their files. Therefore, the main enforcement tool the government uses to ensure that employers are hiring only people authorized to work are "I-9 audits" performed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In an I-9 audit, ICE can assess significant civil fines that run easily into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, even for a small company. ICE may even threaten employers with criminal penalties in the case of particularly severe violations.

The regulations governing Form I-9 distinguish between two types of civil violations: "technical" violations and "substantive" violations. While "technical" violations can be corrected in I-9 audits according to the relevant regulations, ICE is much less inclined to forgive their "substantive" counterparts. Given the complexity of the I-9 regulations, however, potentially costly "substantive" violations can be difficult to avoid, even for the most conscientious employers.

Luckily, I-9compliance.com provides a free and easy method of helping you stay on top of your I-9 forms. Their electronic compliance solution will help you "audit" your I-9 forms before ICE does, keeping you ready to respond to any I-9 request by the government at a moment's notice. I-9compliance.com can help take away one of the major headaches of doing business in this era of increased immigration enforcement.

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