As a result of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, employers must complete and submit an I-9 form for every new hire. Officially titled the Employment Eligibility Verification form, the I-9 confirms that each employee is legally authorized to work in the U.S.

The good news is that the form can be completed and signed electronically. The not-quite-as-good news: there are potential civil and criminal penalties for not completing the form correctly and on time, up to $2,701 for a first offense and into five figures for subsequent offenses. (The fines for knowingly hiring someone who isn’t legally authorized in the U.S. are even higher.)

Organizations can even be fined for writing a date on the form incorrectly.

Here’s everything organizations need to know to complete the new I-9 form correctly.

I-9 Background and Deadlines

Every new hire must complete an I-9 form. Contractors and unpaid volunteers aren’t required to complete one, but a company can be liable if it outsources work to a contractor who it knows is unauthorized or employs unauthorized workers.

By completing an I-9, an organization is attesting (under threat of perjury) that an employee is one of these:

  • U.S. citizen
  • U.S. non-citizen national
  • Lawful permanent resident (generally someone who holds a green card)
  • Alien authorized to work

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, employers must:

  • Have a completed Form I-9 on file for each person on their payroll who is required to complete the form
  • Retain and store Forms I-9 for three years after the date of hire, or for one year after employment is terminated, whichever is later
  • Make their forms available for inspection if requested by authorized U.S. government officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor, or Department of Justice.

Section 1 of the I-9 form must be completed during the new hire’s first day of employment (but not before the new hire accepts the organization’s job offer). Section 2 must be completed within three business days of the hiring date.

What’s Changed in the I-9 Form

The I-9 form is periodically updated. Here’s what’s changed in the latest version.

  • Reduced from two pages to one (and instructions were cut from 15 to eight pages)
  • Moved Section 1 (Preparer/Translator Certification) into a separate, optional supplement
  • Changed “alien authorized to work” to “noncitizen authorized to work” and clarified the difference between “noncitizen national” and “noncitizen authorized to work”
  • Made the form compatible with tablets and mobile devices (using the free Adobe Acrobat app)
  • Improved guidance about the List of Acceptable Documents

Note that the new form is optional until October 31, 2023. Employers must use the newest form as of November 1, 2023.

More updates and instructions are available in Handbook for Employers M-274.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

All too often, employers try to be “helpful” by suggesting alternative documents for verification or accepting expired or photocopied documents. Both of these can get employers into trouble.

Many also miss the deadlines for completing both sections of the form.

In addition, employers need to have a mechanism in place to verify documents for remote employees because the I-9 form requires that employers review and verify the actual, physical documentation for each employee.

The Lindenberger Group can help organizations devise policies and procedures that ensure I-9 forms are completed correctly to avoid penalties. For more information or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.