I-9 Form (Identification and Documentation 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 U.S. and is used to verify an employee’s identity and to determine whether he or she is eligible to begin work for the company. Make sure that you are using the latest version of the I-9.

Origin of the I-9

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) deemed American employers legally responsible for verifying the employment eligibility of 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.

As of October 2004, the I-9 verification process can be completed electronically.

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 identification 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.

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.

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 below documents from List A or one of the documents from List B, plus one of the documents from List C.

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

  • United States Passport or Passport Card
  • Permanent Resident Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card (I-551)
  • Foreign passport that contains a temporary I-551 stamp or temporary I-551 printed notation on a machine-readable immigrant visa
  • Employment Authorization Document that contains a photograph (I-766)
  • Foreign Passport with a temporary I-551 stamp
  • For a nonimmigrant alien authorized to work only for a specific employer because of his or her status: a foreign passport and either Form I-94 or Form I-94A that has the same name as the passport and an endorsement of the alien’s nonimmigrant status as long as the period of endorsement has not expired and the proposed endorsement does not conflict with any restrictions or limitations identified on the form
  • Passport from the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) or the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) with Form I-94 or I-94A indicating nonimmigrant admission under the Compact of Free Association Between the United States and the FSM or RMI

List B (documents that establish identity only)

  • Driver's license or ID card issued by a state or outlying possession of the United States provided it contains a photograph or information such as name, date of birth, gender, height, eye color, and address
  • ID card issued by federal, state, or local government agencies or entities provided it contains a photograph or information such as name, date of birth, gender, height, eye color, and address
  • School ID with photograph
  • U.S. Coast guard Merchant Mariner Card
  • Native American tribal document
  • Driver’s license issued by a Canadian government authority
  • Voter's registration card
  • U.S. military card or draft record
  • Military dependent's ID card

For persons aged under age 18 years who are unable to present a document listed above:

  • School record or report card
  • Clinic, doctor, or hospital record
  • Daycare or nursery school record

List C (documents that establish employment eligibility only)

  • Social Security account number card, unless the card includes one of the following restrictions: 1. Not valid for employment; 2. Valid for work only with INS authorization; or 3. Valid for work only with DHS authorization
  •  Original or certified copy of a birth certificate issued by a state, county, municipal authority, or territory of the United States local government agency, bearing an official seal
  • Certification of report of birth issued by the Department of State (Forms DS-1350,FS-545, FS-240)
  • U.S. Citizen ID Card (Form I-197)
  • Native American tribal document
  • Identification Card for use of Resident Citizen in the United States (Form I-179)
  • Employment authorization document issued by the Department of Homeland Security

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

You do not need to complete a Form I-9 if you are/were:

  • Hired on or before Nov. 6, 1986 (or on or before Nov. 27, 2007, if employment is in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands [CNMI]) and are continuing in your employment and have a reasonable expectation of employment at all times
  • Employed for casual domestic work in a private home on a sporadic, irregular, or intermittent basis
  • An independent contractor
  • Employed by a contractor providing contract services (such as employee leasing or temporary agencies) and providing labor to you
  • Not physically working on U.S. soil

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 obtain a copy of your documentation, you may be able to request it online.

Antidiscrimination Clauses

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (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) with information from the 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.

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,when 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.

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. 

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Statutes and Regulations." Accessed May 17, 2020.

  2. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Who Must Complete Form I-9." Accessed May 17, 2020.

  3. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Acceptable Documents for Verifying Employment Authorization and Identity." Accessed May 17, 2020.

  4. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Acceptable Documents." Accessed May 17, 2020.

  5. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "About Form I-9." Accessed May 17, 2020.

  6. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Unlawful Discrimination and Penalties for Prohibited Practices." Accessed May 17, 2020.

  7. Department of Homeland Security. "E-Verify." Accessed May 17, 2020.

  8. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Reverifying Employment Authorization for Current Employees." Accessed May 17, 2020.