The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have extended their COVID-19 policy. Unfortunately, this extension made some employers less diligent in complying with I-9 regulations. This lax response to the extension may have consequences.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not stopped conducting worksite enforcement audits. The audits are increasingly common in the summer to include the most significant volume of seasonal employees. Audits can happen to any business, so prepare yours by reviewing what I-9 processes, audits, and more.
An I-9 audit reviews the company’s employment eligibility verification process. In addition, federal immigration officials will peruse stored Form I-9s, ensuring the documents are complete, accurate, and all employees possess the required work authorization.
Worksites chosen for inspection will receive a Notice of Inspection, requiring the business to produce related Form I-9s for this site. The forms can be sent by certified mail or delivered in person. ICE allows a minimum of three business days for companies to supply the I-9s and other related documents. However, in some situations, warrants or subpoenas are used to obtain the forms instead of giving a three-day notice.
When the inspection takes place, ICE agents will conduct the review where the forms are stored or at a field office. The agents will inspect the I-9 records for compliance and provide your business with the results in writing, including a compliance letter or notices of potential non-compliant activity. Examples of these notices include a Notice of Discrepancies, which means ICE could not determine an employee’s work eligibility, or a Notice of Suspect Documents, which states an employee is not authorized to work. You may have the opportunity to provide further documentation depending on the notice received.
There are steps you can take to prepare for and pass an inspection. The best action to take is to conduct an internal review of your company’s Form I-9s. Internal reviews reveal potential problems with the I-9s and provide the opportunity to correct them before ICE gets involved. You could inspect all Form I-9s or a sample based on non-discriminatory criteria when reviewing. It is important to check Sections 1, 2, and 3 specifically.
You should note any errors or deficiencies and correct them according to the USCIS Handbook for Employers. You will also want to list the errors or omissions on the Form I-9s and the involved employees as a basis for an audit log. Remember that employers can correct mistakes in Sections 2 and 3, but only employees can correct errors in Section 1.
Should the inspection find any procedural or technical violations, you will have at least ten business days to correct them. In addition, there may be monetary fines for any uncorrected and substantive technical violations. Finally, if ICE decides an employer knowingly hired or continues to employ unauthorized workers, the employer may be civilly fined or criminally prosecuted and warned to cease the unlawful activity.
Ensure your company’s Form I-9s are accurate and complete by investing in an electronic I-9 management system. Electronic systems walk you through every step and securely store the forms for easy access when needed.
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