I-9 Form - Employment Eligibility Form Requirements

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When hired for a new job, employees are required to prove that they are legally entitled to work in the United States. As part of the new-hire paperwork provided by their employer, a new employee must complete an I-9 form. This document is the accepted method for employees to verify their eligibility to work in the U.S.

What Is an I-9 Form?

When employers hire new workers, they're required to verify each new employee's identity and eligibility to work. An Employment Eligibility Form (I-9) is a form created by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sector of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that must be completed for every employee hired in the United States and is used to verify an employee’s identity and to determine that he or she is eligible to begin work for the company. Make sure that you are using the latest version of the I-9.

When Employment Eligibility Forms Are Completed

An Employment Eligibility Form (I-9) must be completed during the hiring process for all new hires. The employer must verify the employee's eligibility and identity documents and record the document information on the I-9 form within three days of employment.

Employers that fail to complete and maintain I-9 forms for each new hire may be subject to fines or other legal ramifications from the Department of Labor. Employees must present original documents, not photocopies, of documentation to prove they are legally entitled to work in the U.S. As an exception, an employee may present a certified copy of a birth certificate.

Origin of the I-9

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) deemed American employers legally responsible for employment eligibility verification required for all new employees. While the I-9 form is not required for volunteers or contract-based employees, foreign nationals on employment visas are required to complete the form.

If an employee is unable to read or write in English, the form allows for a translator or legal preparer to complete the form on behalf of the employee. As of October 2004, the I-9 verification process can be completed electronically.

Required Documentation to Prove Work Eligibility

In addition to your basic personal information, when you fill out an I-9 Form you need to provide at least one of the approved forms of documentation to prove your identity and eligibility to work in the U.S. The documentation usually includes some type of photo identification and confirmation of legal status in the country and will be used as a cross check. 

Acceptable I-9 Documents

There are three categories of documents that you are allowed to submit. Employees are required to present either one of the documents from List A or one of the documents from List B, and one of the documents from List C.

List A (Documents that establish both identity and employment eligibility)

  • United States Passport
  • Permanent Resident Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card (I-551)
  • Temporary Resident Card (I-688)
  • Employment Authorization Document (I-766, I-688B, or I-688A)
  • Foreign Passport with temporary I-551 stamp
  • For aliens authorized to work only for a specific employer, foreign passport with Form I-94 authorizing employment with this employer

List B (Documents that establish identity only)

  • Driver's license issued by a state or outlying possession
  • ID card issued by a state or outlying possession
  • Native American tribal document
  • Canadian driver's license or ID card with a photograph (for Canadian aliens authorized to work only for a specific employer)
  • School ID card with a photography
  • Voter's registration card
  • U.S. Military card or draft record
  • Military dependent's ID Card

List C (Documents that establish employment eligibility only)

  • Social Security account number card without employment restrictions
  • Original or certified copy of a birth certificate with an official seal issued by a state or local government agency
  • Certification of Birth Abroad
  • U.S. Citizen ID Card
  • Native American tribal document
  • Form I-94 authorizing employment with this employer (for aliens authorized to work only for a specific employer)
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240)

When Don’t You Need to Complete an I-9 Form

Since the law was instituted on November 6, 1986, most paid workers are required to submit I-9 forms. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. You don't need an I-9 form if you:

  • Were hired on or before November 6, 1986, and are continuing employment with an expectation to stay on with your company in the future.
  • You are hired for "casual domestic work," like babysitting, nannying, or cleaning, in a private home on an intermittent basis.
  • You are an independent contractor.
  • You aren't physically working in the United States.

No I-9 Documentation?

An employee who fails to produce the required document, or a receipt for a replacement document (in the case of lost, stolen, or destroyed documents), within three business days of the date employment begins, can be terminated. An employee who shows a receipt for replacement has 90 days to present the replacement documents.

If you need to get a copy of your documentation, you may be able to request it online.

I-9 Form Reverification Process

U.S. Citizen’s I-9 forms are valid indefinitely unless a gap in employment exceeding one year occurs. Foreign Nationals on a work visa or students and exchange visitors must have their I-9 reverified with each extension, or after their visa has expired with a new employment authorization permit is issued.

I-9 forms are required to be retained by the employer for either three years after an employee’s start date or one year after his or her employment is terminated, whichever is later.

Antidiscrimination Clauses

The IRCA legislation that's responsible for the I-9 also includes antidiscrimination clauses. Under the IRCA, U.S. Citizens, Permanent Residents, and Asylum Seekers legally allowed to work in the United States legally cannot be denied employment or be forcefully terminated based on origin or citizenship. Additionally, employers must accept any of the aforementioned documents for the I-9 form as long as the documents are originals or certified copies. The IRCA is enforceable for all employers with three or more workers. 

Employer Verification of I-9 Information

Employers can verify an employee's I-9 information online to avoid fines or penalties by using the E-Verify system. This is an online service provided by the federal government that compares information from an employee's Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to information from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility. The employee's Social Security number is required to perform a verification using E-Verify, and the system cannot be used to reverify an expired authorization for employment.

Penalties for Employers Who Hire Unauthorized Workers

Employers who hire unauthorized workers can be fined between $250 and $5,000 per worker depending on the severity of the situation. If a company has been convicted of three or more offenses, the penalties can go all the way up to $10,000 per illegal worker or more, and up to six months of jail time for the employer. Accepting fraudulent documents can also cause a company to pay between $375 and $3,200 for the first offense, and double the latter per document for additional occurrences.

Finally, employers may be fined or subject to other repercussions for discriminating based on citizenship, national origin, document fraud or rejection, or retaliation. 

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.