Even a vague idea of the close connection between the unlawful employment of those without authorization to work in the U.S. and substantial penalties and fines should be enough to get the full attention of any employer. Securing employment authorization is a business necessity and getting it right is a prerequisite for complying with the law and keeping your company safe from enforcement action.
Thus, it is always somewhat surprising to discover that one of the most frequently encountered stumbling stones in the verification process is also crucial for its accuracy – employers often mistake E-Verify for Form I-9. This happens when hiring managers do not comprehend the I-9 and E-Verify differences, let alone the purpose of one compared to the other. Let’s rectify this issue and help employers eager to ensure I-9 compliance.
Form I-9 was introduced in 1986, more than three decades ago, through the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Its primary aim is to prevent the employment of undocumented immigrants in the U. S., as well as to prevent workplace discrimination based on citizenship or national origin. Form I-9 provides a uniform document used by employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility of each new hire. Accurate and timely completion of the form is a crucial element of I-9 compliance.
Some of the regulations Form I-9 regulations employers have to meet:
- Onboarding a new employee starts with an I-9. Not later than the first day of work for pay, they have to complete and sign Section 1 of the Form;
- Within 3 business days of the date employment begins, the employee must present a document to the employer to have the identity verification procedure completed;
- Employers have the same deadline – 3 business days, to complete and sign Section 2 of the form, based on the documentation provided. Their role is also to physically examine the documents presented and make sure they reasonably appear to be genuine and relate to the employee presenting them;
- The obligation to store original I-9 forms extends for three years after the date of hire, or one year after the date employment ends, whichever comes later. According to best practices, employers need to store the forms separately from other personnel files;
- If they fail to properly complete or retain Forms I-9 for all employees, businesses could be subject to civil fines;
- If you hire someone without complying with the employment eligibility verification requirements, you are breaking the law. Knowingly hiring or continuing to employ individuals who are not authorized to work in the U. S could result in criminal charges and severe penalties.
These are the basics, guidelines without which you are destined to fail the compliance test and end up paying hefty fines if subjected to I-9 audits and inspections conducted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).
E-Verify is an internet-based system that compares data from a worker’s Form I-9 to information from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) records, automatically confirming their authorization to work in the USA. In the central database, the Social Security numbers should match with the employee’s name to produce this confirmation.
If employees present a passport, Permanent Resident Card, or Employment Authorization Document, the photo matching feature of the system allows additional comparison and authentication of the documents.
In case the match and verification occur, the employer will instantly receive a confirmation of authorized employment. Otherwise, they receive a Tentative Non-Confirmation (TNC), which means that the issue needs further attention to enable verification.
E-Verify is mandatory for federal contractors and employers in some states, namely: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Some of the advantages employers using E-Verify can achieve:
- No ineligible workers may enter the workforce as E-Verify alerts an employer if an employee’s social security number does not match government records;
- E-Verify relieves employers of burdensome verification uncertainty and provides additional safety in the process. This is especially important for large employers with multiple offices across the country;
- Using E-Verify creates a rebuttable presumption that an organization that complied with E-Verify in good faith did not knowingly hire a worker ineligible for employment;
- As more states add E-Verify mandates for employers each year, early adoption allows more time to adapt to the system.
As we can see, I-9 and E-Verify work differently to achieve the same purpose – to confirm and secure the work authorization of new employees. Some of the key differences that employers need to understand are the following:
- Form I-9 is mandatory for all employers, whereas for most of them, E-Verify is voluntary;
- For I-9 Form, no social security number is required. Asking a potential employee to provide a social security card for I-9 purposes might even constitute a substantive violation. On the other hand, the social security number is a must for the E-Verify procedure;
- To complete I-9 Form, the acceptable documents do not necessarily need to have a photo. For E-Verify, that is a must;
- Form I-9 serves to re-verify expired employment authorization. E-Verify cannot be used for that purpose.
E-Verify and I-9 are used together to validate that an employee is authorized to work in the U.S. Even though they are not the same, it is easy for overwhelmed employers to mistake the two verification instruments and miss some pieces in the complex puzzle of employment eligibility verification and its importance for the legality of business operations.
One obvious way to achieve compliance is to take advantage of electronic I-9 software with an integrated E-Verify feature. The system enables accurate completion of Form I-9 by automatically checking the entries for errors, which saves a lot of time and attention.
Electronic employment verification makes compliance an easy task. Additionally, it eliminates burdensome paperwork and automatically submits a new employee’s document to E-Verify. What was before a confusing mix of processes, verifications, and regulations, becomes a streamlined mistake-free workflow.