Failure to maintain a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), for all your workers can be a very serious offense that may result in substantial civil or criminal penalties.
U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) recently announced that the number of worksite enforcement investigations has already doubled for this year compared to all of the last full fiscal year, with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) initiating 2,282 I-9 audits from just October 1, 2017 through May 4.
HSI says its stepped-up enforcement strategy is designed to encourage compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of everyone they hire and document the information on Form I-9. And the pace of investigations is likely to continue.
Be Prepared for an I-9 Audit
The first step in the audit process is a notice of inspection. If you’ve received a notice – or even if you haven’t – now’s a good time to get your hiring records in order to ensure you’re complying with the law. If not? Violations can result in criminal and civil penalties ranging from $375 to $16,000 per violation.
I-9 Quick Tips
Here are five steps to help employers avoid mistakes with I-9 compliance.
- Read and refer to the Handbook for Employers (M-274). The M-274 is published by USCIS to help employers better understand the purpose of the I-9. The I-9 can be surprisingly confusing. The handbook should answer many of your questions about compliance.
- Store your I-9 forms safely. It is best to keep your I-9 forms in one place — separate from other personnel files — so that sensitive information will not be unnecessarily revealed during an audit.
- Perform internal audits regularly. An internal audit is the best way to detect and correct errors. It may also demonstrate a good faith effort that could spare you serious penalties in the event of a government audit.
- Avoid employment practices that are considered discriminatory. Employees must be treated equally regardless of citizenship or immigration status, national origin, or native language. Many well-intentioned actions can be considered discriminatory; for example, employers may not ask to see work authorization documents before hiring on the grounds that someone seems foreign or is not an American citizen.
- When in doubt, consult a professional. When it comes to I-9s, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Consulting a professional could spare you hefty fines or even jail time.
To help you stay in compliance, we’ve compiled the above tips into a downloadable sheet for you and your team. Click here to download for free! And if you have any questions about I-9 compliance, please contact us at 866.658.8800.