Immigration Reform: Hitting Closer to Home — The New Form I-9

While Congress continues to debate the overhaul of our nation’s Immigration System, employers should also be reviewing whether an overhaul is needed in their current immigration compliance efforts.  On March 8, 2013, the US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) released a new Form I-9 which is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired to work in the United States.  By May 7, 2013, all employers must use the newly revised form for all new hires, rehires or re-verification of existing employees.

Purpose of the Form

I-9 compliance procedures were born from the Immigration Control & Reform Act of 1986, which makes it unlawful for employers to knowingly hire or continue to employ individuals who are not legally authorized to work in the U.S.

Under this Act, the employer shoulders the burden to check and record the eligibility of each employee by accurately completing and maintaining an I-9 Form.  Every employee hired after November 6, 1986, must have a completed I-9 Form on file that verifies eligibility to work.  I-9 Forms must also be retained and stored by the employer either for three (3) years after the date of hire or for one (1) year after termination of employment, whichever is longer.

New Changes:  The Most Complicated 2-Page Form You’ll Ever Complete

More than 3 years have passed since USCIS last released an update to the Form I-9.  The revised Form I-9, which has traditionally been a 1-page form, is now 2 pages which may be clearer and easier to understand for both employees and employers.

The key changes on the new Form I-9 are as follows:

  • Expanded form instructions; and
  • New data fields including phone number, e-mail address, and the employee’s foreign passport information (when applicable).

While it is easy to rush this paperwork in order to get your new hire off and running, this is a two-page form where failing to cross your t’s and dot your i’s can become expensive and quickly add up if you continue to unknowingly replicate the mistake.

It May Cost You…

What may seem to be a lot of time-consuming bureaucratic paperwork can lead to a lot of green paper being taken right out of your wallet.  The U.S. Department of Justice has significantly stepped up its enforcement efforts and will continue to pursue companies for I-9 compliance deficiencies.  Penalties for failing to comply with I-9 requirements can be substantial:

  • Civil fines as high as $1,100 for each I-9 form that is not complete, not properly retained or not presented properly.
  • Monetary fines can be even higher for employers who knowingly hire or continue to employ unauthorized workers.  First time violations can total as much as $3,200 per unauthorized employee and up to $6,500 and $16,000 for second and third time violations respectively.
  • Indictments, felony charges and prison sentences have followed even more serious violations.

An Ounce of Prevention

Employers should take time to ensure that their organization:

  • Is aware of the new I-9 form and the requirements for completing each section as it relates to the regulations.
  • Has a dedicated individual(s) to help with the transition and ongoing administration of both the old and new I-9 Forms.

Over the past few years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of I-9 investigations conducted by Immigration & Customs Enforcement.  The safest way for employers to ensure compliance with I-9 regulations is to conduct an internal audit of its company records.  Otherwise, failure to comply may be more time-consuming, financially draining and become your company’s next public relations nightmare.

With Spring finally here, it is a good reminder to get your house in order.  Let us know how we can partner with you to ensure these and other compliance concerns you may have are neat and tidy.

Helpful Links

Handbook for Employers, Guidance for Completing Form I-9: http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/m-274.pdf

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