What Is an I-9 Form?

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The I-9 form is a document that is designed to ensure that a newly hired employee is legally able to work in the United States. The burden on demonstrating that a new hire is legally permitted to work in the United States falls on both the newly hired employee and the employer. Together the employee and employer must provide appropriate documentation and adequately complete the I-9 form to demonstrate legal compliance. The form can be completed in a hard copy format or online.


The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 mandates that employers verify that all new hires are legally authorized to undertake employment in the United States. The so-called I-9 form--which technically is known as the Employment Verification Form--has two sections. One section is to be completed by the employer at the the time a new employee is hired and requires the employer to verify in writing that the employee has provided documentation demonstrating her ability to work in the United States legally. Another section on the form is to be completed and signed by the employee within three days of starting work and verifies that the employee has provided accurate information regarding her status.

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In addition to ensuring the the form itself appropriately is completed, the new hire must also present documents to demonstrate his legal status to engage in employment. There is an A, B and C list of approved documents. The new hire must present one document from the A list (which includes a U.S. passport) or one document from the B list and the C list. B list documents include a social security card, while B list items include a driver's license. The I-9 form itself lists all approved documents that can be utilized. The employer is obligated by law to examine these documents to reasonably ascertain that they do look authentic.


The I-9 document must be retained by the employer during the entire period of time that the employee is employed. The document must be available for inspection by appropriate governmental authorities if the need ever arises. Additionally, an I-9 must remain on file for a period of time if an employee is terminated for any reason. The I-9 must be maintained in such circumstances for at least three years after the employee is hired and terminated or for at least one year after employment termination, which ever period of time is longer.


The penalties that can be imposed upon an employer for not complying with the requirements associated with the I-9 are significant. An employer can be fined between $250 and $5,500 for each worker who is not appropriately authorized to work in the U.S. An employer who maintains incomplete I-9 forms can be fined upwards to $1,100 for each improperly completed form. Additionally, an employer who knowingly accepts false I-9 forms can be criminally prosecuted under the applicable immigration laws. An employee who provides false information on an I-9 can face fine and imprisonment.


Unfortunately, even at this point in time (and after a great deal of information having been made available to employers and employees about the importance of the I-9) many employers remain out of compliance. Many employers make the mistake of not taking satisfying the I-9 requirements seriously. The reality is that the federal government continues to crack down more significantly in regard to I-9 related enforcement, including imposing significant penalties on businesses that are not in compliance.