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Greenville Business Magazine

Employment Verification Never Looked So Good: A Look at Changes to the Form I-9

Feb 01, 2017 04:39PM ● Published by Makayla Gay

By Sheila Bias

Associate, Fisher Phillips

For many employees, completing the I-9 form process is an exciting time because it means they have landed that job and have arrived for their first day of work. For employers, however, the I-9 form can be a process that is confusing, especially when it comes to determining whether certain identity and employment eligibility documents presented by employees are acceptable. It’s also another form to pile on to the administration process of onboarding a new employee.

However, the release of the new version of the I-9 form by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may help alleviate some of the stress of completing the form and help employers complete it in less time.

The I-9 form is used to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for work in the United States. The form must be completed and maintained for all employees hired in the United States after November 6, 1986. The employee must complete Section 1 no later than the date he or she starts working and the employer must complete Section 2 no later than the third business day after the employee starts to work.

Employers must retain the I-9 form as long as the employee remains employed. Once the employment relationship terminates, the form should be purged only after the retention requirements have been met. Employers are required to make their I-9 forms available for inspection by authorized U.S. government officials from the Department of Homeland Security, specifically the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Last November, the most recent version of the I-9 form was released. By Jan. 22, 2017, all employers were required to start using the new version – which replaces the 2013 version of the form. If employers are still using the 2013 version, they should immediately start using the current version. The new form has a listed expiration date of Aug. 31, 2019 but would continue to be valid beyond that date until the next version is released by the USCIS.

The updated version of the I-9 form is designed to provide clearer instructions for employees and employers completing the form. For example, Section 1 now asks for “other last names used,” instead of “other names used.” This change was designed to streamline the certification process for certain foreign nationals.

The new form is also easier to complete on a computer. The online version is now equipped with “smart fields” designed to reduce errors when entering data. Each field is now equipped with its own set of instructions and the form provides easier access to the full instructions.

Overall, the updated I-9 form has more room for data entry and provides dedicated areas for including additional information. For example, the form now allows for the entry of multiple preparers and translators and includes a supplemental page for listing the preparers and translators. It also provides space for notes so the employer will no longer need to use the margins of the form to enter required information.

If you are still completing your I-9 forms manually, you may want to consider moving to electronic execution through the USCIS website (at www.uscis.gov/i-9), which will curtail some of the more common errors seen when completing the form manually. Once the “smart” form has been completed online, it must be printed and both the employee and the employer must sign and date the form with wet signatures. The hard copy of the form must be retained by the employer, as required by law.

Employers should also take this opportunity to review their business practices to ensure they remain in compliance with all applicable immigration laws and regulations. It is very apparent that immigration issues, and immigration compliance, will be a major focus of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) going forward.

It is important to remember I-9 violations are punished with fines and penalties (e.g., $216 to $2,156 per form for substantive violations for a first-time audit). Employers could also face investigations from the U.S. Department of Justice, Immigrant and Employee Rights Section, for violations of I-9 form and E-Verify compliance, such as claims of document abuse discrimination.

Overall, the new form is designed to be more efficient. However, as with any new roll-out or initiative, employers should take time to familiarize themselves with the new form and ensure the appropriate personnel are trained on the new changes. Employers should make sure to assess whether completion of the new form will change the current onboarding processes or procedures.

In addition, employers should identify if any additional time or alternate methodologies need to be implemented to make sure the onboarding process remains streamlined and efficient, and make changes where needed.

Sheila Bias is an associate in the Columbia office of Fisher Phillips. She represents employers in a variety of labor and employment matters.

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