Best Practices for an I-9 Audit

Published: November 8, 2022 by Vijay Thakkar

employees discussing how to prepare for I-9 audit

Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 made it illegal for employers to knowingly hire, recruit, or refer for a fee anyone without work authorization. IRCA’s main purpose, to curtail illegal immigration, remains ever so important in present times and employers need to be very cautious in enforcing it to avoid hefty fines and criminal penalties. Immigration compliance for employers is no longer a slight inconvenience but a business necessity, so employers should be up to date on best practices to prepare for an I-9 audit.

Importance of Form I-9

To make sure their business operations are in line with immigration laws and policies, employers have one major duty. Within three days of the date of hire, they need to file Form I-9 for each new employee.

An employer is obliged to verify the identity and employment eligibility of a new hire by reviewing their documents to prove their identity and work eligibility. As easy as this may sound, the task to ensure proper completion of the form involves a strict set of timelines and complex rules.

The entire form consists of three sections: the first one must be completed by the employee, the second – by the employer to attest to the accuracy of the employee-entered data by inspecting the original document of the employee’s choice, and the third one is used by employers in case of rehiring, notating employees legal name change or re-verifying the work authorization.

These records should be kept on file and in perfect order all the times to be prepared for an audit and timely respond to the ICE inspection. The Form I-9 must exist for each employee and be retained for a set period upon termination, either three years after the date of hire, or one year after the employment is terminated, whichever is later. Whether they decide to store Form I-9 files on paper, electronically, or as a combination of these methods, they need to be able to provide them for inspection on a 72-hour notice.

Mistakes to Avoid as You Prepare for an I-9 Audit

For a seemingly simple, brief, and straightforward document, I-9 comes with an incredible 55-page handbook for employers. This makes caution in the process of filling it out and handling it even more important.

To avoid potentially high costs of an I-9 violation caused by non-compliance, as they prepare for I-9 audit employers should keep some of the most common I-9 processing errors in mind, such as:

  • Not completing the form within 3 business days;
  • Not re-verifying employment eligibility of employees with temporary citizenship status;
  • Accepting invalid documentation as a form of identification;
  • Improper maintenance of I-9 forms of the existing employees;
  • Missing dates or signatures;
  • Allowing untrained staff to administer I-9s;
  • Not conducting an internal I-9 audit;
  • Not making copies of the I-9 form; and
  • Making corrections without initializing and dating them.

Proactive and Good Faith Practices

Every prudent employer will do their best to avoid getting entangled with Form I-9 violations and face the consequences of possible non-compliance. We outlined some of the guidelines to help employers ensure their employment practices and I-9 management get and stay in line with the regulations, and prepare for I-9 audits in the best possible way:

Brief Overview on Conducting Voluntary Internal Audits

An effective internal audit can provide an employer with important insights. It will detect and allow the correction of errors such as technical missteps, missing I-9s, expired work authorizations, fraudulent documents, and other issues. Based on the results obtained, employers can recognize more serious issues and address them in advance. This type of precaution can not only reveal problems in time to be corrected but also demonstrate the employer’s good faith efforts to comply with I-9 requirements.

Keeping Up with I-9 Legislation and Regular Staff Training

Any new change made to the form can have a far-reaching effect. This makes the task of keeping an eye out for the news and updates on the legislation vital. The mistakes made unknowingly are still mistakes – an employer has to keep up with the new guidelines and use the most recent version of the form.

Not only must an employer revisit onboarding processes, review SOPs, training material and job aids periodically, but also the staff involved in I-9s should be well educated and trained regularly. Starting with the information such as instructions on how to complete the I-9 Form, through reverification and retention rules, how to prevent the use of fraudulent documents and how to detect them, to how to prevent discrimination and other prohibited actions should be constantly on the radar for updates and flawless administration.

Utilizing E-Verify

As an internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA), E-Verify allows employers to determine the eligibility of their newly hired employees to work in the US. Even though E-Verify is a voluntary program that cannot be mistaken for an audit, by utilizing its features employers show they are being proactive as a company in keeping their workforce legal.

Automating I-9 Administration

In an increasingly digitalized world, an automated system for I-9 administration is an obvious upgrade for every business. It is a time and money saver, and one of the surest ways to improve your I-9 compliance and help you prepare for I-9 audit.

Balancing technology with human expertise, the digital solution eliminates pressures of time, compliance, reporting, and record keeping and allows an employer to be ready for audits at any time of the day.

Compliance Box Ticked

While I-9 compliance may seem simple, not ensuring it may entail serious issues for employers. ICE Notice of Inspection can come at any time and employers need to be ready to provide I-9 documentation in order and fully compliant i.e. prepare for I-9 audit timely and comprehensively. By making sure the correct version of the document is filled out and dated correctly, the storage and retention procedures revisited, legislation monitored, training implemented, internal audit completed, and advantage taken of digital tools such as E-Verify and automated I-9 management system, better compliance will enable employers to fully dedicate their time to the benefit of their business operations.

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