I-9 Verification Overview

What is I-9 Verification?

The I-9 verification process is a system set up by the U.S. immigration statutes to ensure that employers do not knowingly hire unauthorized aliens.  Before a new employee may begin working, the employer must check the employee’s identity papers to ensure that the person is:  (1) who he or she claims to be; and (2) is authorized to work in the U.S.  The types of documents which are acceptable for verification purposes are limited, and are listed on back of the I-9 form.

Why Does the U.S. Government Place Such an
Emphasis on the I-9 Verification Process?

The goals of Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”) and Immigration Act of 1990 (“IMMACT 1990”) were to root out and eliminate the knowing and habitual hiring and retention of unauthorized aliens.  IRCA, in effect, made U.S. employers agents for ICE in the pursuit of these goals.  The I-9 form, and the verification process on which it is based, is the mechanism in which employers prove that they verified the lawful status of their employees.  The I-9 form also provides a record from which government investigators may ascertain if an employer is knowingly employing unauthorized aliens.  The I-9 form, when properly completed, provides an employer with a “good faith” defense if an alien is hired and is later found to have been in the U.S. illegally. 

Where Can I Obtain the I-9 Form

The most recent version of the I-9 form may be found here http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-9.pdf.  It is a good idea to check USCIS’s website once a month to obtain the latest version of the I-9 form.  Using an expired form is a violation which could lead to fines.  This was not a problem in the past, but in the last two years, the I-9 form has undergone multiple revisions, and is due for additional revisions.

 Who Must Complete the Various
Sections on the Front of the I-9 Form?

The employee should complete Section 1 on the first day of employment.  He or she must fill out the personal blocks and other information, sign and date.  A translator or preparer can assist the employee when requested.

The employer should complete Section 2 when presented with employee’s documentation within three days of hire. The employer must examine the document(s) submitted by the employee which establish his or her identity and employment eligibility.  The employer then fills in the document title, issuing authority and expiration date. The employee may provide a document which establishes both the identity and employment eligibility. These appear under List A.  Alternatively, the employee can present one document from List B which establishes identity, plus one document from List C which establishes employment eligibility.  The employer also fills in the date employment begins and signs and dates the certification.

The employer is also to complete the Section 3 reverification portion no later than the date a current employee’s work authorization expires.  This section is also to be completed if the employee is rehired. The employer is to examine the document submitted by the employee which establishes continuation of employment eligibility and fill in the document title, issuing authority and expiration date.

 What Documents are Acceptable for
Verification of Identity and Employment Eligibility?

The back of the I-9 form contains a list of documents which an employer may accept to verify the identity of an employee and his or her employment eligibility.  Do not deviate from this list of acceptable documents for any employee, regardless of how well you may know the person.  Doing so will nullify the I-9 verification process for that employee.

What Are Some of the Most Important Things
to DO During the I-9 Verification Process?

DO give the employee a list of acceptable verification documents on the first day of employment.

DO point out that he or she may present one document from Column A or one each from Columns B and C.

DO make sure the employee completes and signs Section 1, fully, on the first day of employment.

DO make sure that Section 2 documents are provided to the employer by the third day of employment and that they:

  • relate to the person hired;
  • coincide with the descriptive information; and
  • show no discrepancies.

 DO recognize that inquiries about name changes are appropriate.

 DO review the documents provided by the employee to ensure they are on the lists of acceptable documents.

 DO review documents for genuineness

  •  look for any obvious signs of tampering or forgery;
  • reject an offered document only if it is an obvious forgery or shows signs of tampering;
  • if uncertain, do not reject;
  • follow the general rule: if it looks valid on its face and is listed as a qualified document on the I-9, you may accept it.

DO ensure that all Section 2 information is completed, signed and dated by the verifying representative.

DO reverify work authorization of the employee if information in Section 1 or Section 2 of the I-9 form shows an expiration date.

DO retain I-9’s for 3 years or 1 year after employment ends, whichever is longer.

DO recognize that I-9 forms are subject to inspection upon 3-day notice even without a warrant or subpoena from the government.

What Are Some of the Major “DON’Ts”
During the I-9 Verification Process?

DON’T tell the employee which documents to present.

DON’T tell the employee that the employer prefers certain document or documents.

DON’T try to be a “fraudulent document expert” (you are not required to be).

DON’T reject a document unless it is an obvious forgery or shows signs of tampering.

DON’T reject a document simply because it differs from that which may be contained in the USCIS Handbook.

DON’T accept photocopied duplicates of any qualifying documents or laminated social security cards.

DON’T consider the expiration of an individual’s eligibility date, listed in Section 1 of the I-9, in any hiring decision, no matter how close that date is to the date of hiring.

What Are Some Other Most Frequently
Asked Questions About the I-9 Process?

 Q.   Do U.S. citizens need to prove they are eligible to work?

 A.    Yes.  While U.S. citizens are automatically eligible for employment, they too must provide the required documents and complete the Form I-9.

 Q.   Does the employer need to complete an I-9 for everyone who applies for a job with the company?

 A.    No. The employer needs to complete I-9s only for people it actually hires.  For purposes of the law, a person is “hired” when he or she begins to work for you.

 Q.   If someone accepts a job within the company but will not start work for a month, can the employer complete the I-9 when the employee accepts the job?

 A.    Yes. While the law requires the employer to complete the I-9 when the person actually begins working, you may complete the form when he or she accepts the job.

 Q.     Does an employer need to fill out an I-9 for independent contractors or the employees of independent contractors?

 A.      No.  For example, if Company A contracts with Company B to provide temporary secretarial services, Company A does not have to complete I-9s for Company B’s employees. Company B is responsible for completing the I-9s for its own employees. However, Company A must not knowingly use contract labor to circumvent the law against hiring unlawful workers.

 Q.     What should an employer do if the person hired is unable to provide the required documentation within three days?

 A.      If an employee is unable to provide the required document or documents within three days, he or she must at least produce a receipt showing that he or she has applied for the document. The employee must produce the document itself within 21 days of being hired. Additionally, the employee must have indicated in Section 1 of the I-9 form that he/she was already eligible to work in the United States.

 Q.     What is the employer’s responsibility concerning the authenticity of documents?

 A.      The employer should examine the documents and if  they appear to be genuine on their face and to relate to the person, they should be accepted.  If this is not the case, the documents should be rejected.  (Be aware that any social security number starting with a “9” is an invalid number.)

 Q.     When does an employer need to fill out an I-9 for someone hired for less than three days?

 A.      Such employees must produce the actual document(s) and fully complete the I-9 at the time employment begins. 

 Q.     Does an employer’s top management have to personally fill out all I-9s for persons hired?

 A.      No.  An employer may designate someone to fill out the I-9s, such as a personnel officer, foreman, agent or anyone else acting in the company’s interest.

 Q.     Can an employer contract with someone to complete the I-9s for its business?

 A.      Yes, but the employer is still responsible for compliance with the law.

 Q.     When an employer reviews the identity and work authorization documents, should it make photocopies of them?

 A.      The law does not require an employer to photocopy documents. However, if it wishes to make photocopies, it must retain them with the I-9.  Photocopies must not be used for any other purpose.

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