I-9 File Contents

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Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, is the form that is required by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to document eligibility for employment in the United States. As an employer, you must fill out an I-9 form for every employee that you hire.

Form I-9 Requirements

All employees, citizens, and non-citizens, hired after November 6, 1986, must complete Section 1 of the Form I-9 at the time of hire. The employer is responsible for ensuring that Section 1 of Form I-9 is timely and properly completed by the employee. 

The employer also must check employment verification and ensure Sections 2 and 3 of the Form I-9 are properly filled out. Employers must complete Section 2 of Form I-9 by examining first-hand evidence—only original, unexpired documents—of identity and employment eligibility within three business days of the date employment begins.

The employee must be physically present and their original documents must be reviewed in-person. The employee who reviews the original documents must sign Section 2 of the I-9.

The form verifies that you have checked two approved forms of identification that prove the employee is legally authorized to work in the United States.

Employers or their authorized representatives need to fill out Section 3 when reverifying that an employee is eligible to work in the United States. When rehiring an employee within three years of the date the I-9 was originally completed, employers have the option of completing a new I-9 form or completing Section 3.

Periodically, you need to audit the I-9 forms to ensure that you have a completed form for every employee. You must check for veracity and completeness, and save evidence of the auditing and of any training that staff members completing or storing the I-9s have received. Therefore, it's important to keep all employee I-9s, and the accompanying documentation, in a separate personnel file.

Storage of Completed I-9 Forms

The government may inspect these forms for compliance. If government employees do so, you do not want to allow them access to your employees' private personnel files and the confidential information they contain. Therefore, in the interest of employee confidentiality and restricted access, isolate your employee I-9s in one folder that is specifically dedicated to I-9 storage.

This protects your employees' privacy and also saves the employer from potentially having to answer additional questions that are raised by the contents of the employee personnel file. Therefore, it is important to avoid opening up your company to an increased investigation by USCIS employees.

I-9 File Investigation and Penalties

By law, employers are provided with at least three business days to produce the Forms I-9. Often, ICE will request that the employer provide supporting documentation, which may include a copy of the payroll, list of current employees, Articles of Incorporation, and business licenses.

If technical or procedural violations are found, the employer has 10 business days to make corrections. The employer can also be fined for any substantive violations or incomplete corrections.

Bottom Line

Due to ICE's enforcement efforts, employers have increasingly faced criminal charges levied on managers, owners, and human resources (HR) staff members for failure to properly complete and store I-9 forms for every employee. Businesses have increasingly received significant fines and been debarred. It is, therefore, imperative that employers make it a priority to ensure that these forms are accurately filled out, maintained, and stored to protect the company and its employees from penalties, which can be costly.