In recent years, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has focused its attention on construction companies and other businesses that rely heavily on foreign workers. And the agency isn’t just targeting companies that employ workers who are in the country illegally. It’s also penalizing businesses that fail to satisfy their employee verification paperwork requirements.
Every employer is required to inspect certain documents and to complete and maintain a Form I-9 — “Employment Eligibility Verification” — for each new hire, regardless of citizenship status or country of origin. The employee must complete and sign the form no later than the first day of employment, and the employer must complete and sign the form within three days after that.
I-9 forms may be stored electronically or on paper. If you use paper forms, it’s a good idea to store them in separate files to avoid giving government auditors access to unrelated personnel information.
Penalties for mishandling Form I-9 can be harsh. In one recent case, a construction company was penalized more than $150,000 for 189 violations. Violations included missing forms, missing signatures, incomplete information and failure to check certain boxes.
Taking some essential compliance steps can lessen the likelihood of I-9 penalties. These include:
Formalizing your immigration policy. Create a written document that establishes procedures for ensuring compliance with immigration laws. Ask your attorney to review and approve it before you implement the policy companywide.
Providing training to HR staff and other employees. Anyone who manages employees or deals with employment issues should know your immigration policies and procedures. As examples, they should know how to 1) complete and store I-9 forms, 2) inspect documents presented to establish identity and employment eligibility, and 3) respond to ICE visits or subpoenas.
Ensuring you’re using the latest version of Form I-9. As of this writing, the current version of the form was dated July 17, 2017, and indicated that it expires August 31, 2019. You can download the form at uscis.gov/i-9.
Using E-Verify. This is a free, online system that electronically confirms employment eligibility by comparing I-9 information against U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records. Certain federal contractors are required to use E-Verify, but other contractors should consider using the system voluntarily. It doesn’t replace the requirement to complete and store I-9 forms, but it provides evidence of good faith that can be used to reduce penalties in the event an audit uncovers any violations.
Remember, Form I-9 is required for all new hires. Even if you hire your spouse or a childhood friend, you must complete the form regardless of what you know or believe about his or her citizenship status, country of origin or work eligibility.