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How to Conduct an Internal I-9 Audit

Published: July 10, 2023 by Vijay Thakkar

Employers across the country deal with Form I-9 with every new hire. The task to ensure compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) regulations may appear simple, but it consists of multifarious, complex, and sensitive elements. Therefore, it is advisable to take it seriously and stay constantly alert to not miss important updates on form and regulatory issues. The purpose of an internal I-9 audit is to identify and correct any errors or deficiencies in the company’s I-9 records, as well as to ensure that the company is properly completing and retaining I-9 forms for all employees. An internal audit can be conducted by the company’s HR or compliance team, or an outside auditor or consultant. The audit may involve a review of I-9 forms, supporting documents, and procedures for completing and retaining I-9 records. The results of an internal I-9 audit can help a company to minimize the risk of noncompliance penalties and improve its overall I-9 compliance program.

Avoid Common Processing Mistakes with an Internal I-9 Audit

I-9 is a seemingly brief and straightforward document but it comes with an incredible 55-page handbook for employers with a reason. Every mistake in processing the form can lead to potentially high costs, showing either technical or substantive I-9 violations. Review each I-9 form for accuracy, completeness, and compliance with the regulations.

Employers should keep some of the most common I-9 processing errors in mind when considering ways to ensure I-9 compliance:

  • Failure to complete all required fields
  • Incorrect or incomplete information
  • 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 or over documentation
  • Improper maintenance of I-9 forms of the existing employees
  • Missing or incorrect dates or signatures
  • Allowing untrained staff to administer I-9s
  • Not making copies of the I-9 form
  • Making corrections without initializing and dating them
  • Failure to properly retain and store completed forms

Most of these errors can be amended and corrected during an internal I-9 audit, which is a voluntary but recommended procedure that employers may undertake once or twice a year to check the I-9 files and prepare for a possible ICE audit.

Compliance Requires a Systemic Approach

Non-compliance with the regulations can be costly and no employer can afford to break the law. Self-auditing is a reliable internal control mechanism and it is impossible to overstate its benefits. Learning how to conduct an internal I-9 audit and making it a scheduled procedure incorporated into the HR department routine is advisable to ensure the ongoing correct and systemic I-9 management and compliance.

To establish the most efficient way to conduct an internal I-9 audit, employers need to set up checklists for the documents required, as well as a method to perform corrective actions and note them down to provide the log of actions taken. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidance is very helpful and should be consulted before each audit.

How to Conduct an Internal I-9 Audit – Basic Principles

A few words of caution are necessary when deciding on how to conduct an internal I-9 audit. Create a plan outlining the scope of the audit, including the time period to be covered, the departments or locations to be audited, and the personnel responsible for conducting the audit. Depending on the size of the business and the HR resources available, an employer may choose to audit all I-9 files or sample I-9 forms for current and former employees that are within the scope of the audit. These can be physical paper copies or electronic copies.

In the latter case, the sample should be random and workers should not feel threatened or discriminated against. This is one of the concerns that drive the rule of employees choosing what document to present when filling out Form I-9. The same rules apply to self-audits. In case an employee needs to take part in correcting the form, employers need to inform them confidentially and allow them to use acceptable I-9 documents of their choice.

The USCIS guidance suggests that employers adopt a standard that would show consistency in conducting the audit as well as in corrective actions based on the errors detected.

In the case of a comprehensive self-audit, it is essential to produce:

  • Employee roster,
  • I-9 files for all employees,
  • Audit log, to document changes and corrective actions.

It may be necessary to use the services of a translator/preparer and consult the latest Form I-9 handbook to compare the accuracy of the initially used version.

How to Conduct an Internal I-9 Audit – Correcting Mistakes

Instructions on how to correct the form are simple:

  • Draw a line through the incorrect information.
  • Enter the correct information.
  • Initial and date the correction.

However, concealing the changes is absolutely not advisable, to avoid possible liability under federal immigration law. If there are multiple corrections on the form, it is possible to attach a new, corrected form to the original. It is vital that all changes, corrections, or addition of missing data have a trail in the audit log along with the date of the change to attest to the employer’s good faith and vigilance to achieve compliance.

If mistakes or omissions are found in Section 1, it is the responsibility of the employee to make the corrections by applying the same method as suggested by USCIS. For Section 2 or 3, the employer must take action.

In the case of the use of the wrong version of Form I-9 which gets detected during an internal audit, the employer may attach a blank signed and dated copy of the current version, explaining the reason for this addition.

When it comes to possible discrepancies related to the documentation presented, the employer needs to make sure that each provision is duly covered and all the legal requirements are met. It is unlawful to knowingly employ aliens without work authorization, so the employer should be aware of the criminal liability this might entail.

Whereas the internal I-9 audits show the employer’s good faith effort in achieving compliance, their adverse results might not absolve them from responsibility or penalties if omissions remain uncorrected.

An employer must document the results of the audit, including any errors or omissions that were found and the steps, are taken to correct them. A record must be kept of the audit results for future reference. Once the audit is complete, implement best practices to ensure ongoing compliance. This may include providing training to staff on the proper completion of I-9 forms, creating a system for tracking expiration dates of work authorizations, conducting periodic audits to ensure ongoing compliance, and building robust SOPs and job aids.

Secure and Improve Your I-9 Compliance

While I-9 compliance may seem complex and laborious, not ensuring it may result in 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 an I-9 audit timely and comprehensively.

In short, this requires making sure the correct version of the document is filled out and dated correctly, the storage and retention procedures revisited, but the list can go on, repeatedly, raising concerns about compliance with every new employee.

To improve the employee experience, monitor regulatory updates and maintain proper I-9 files, consider an I-9 management solution.

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