EVERY employer needs to complete I-9 forms for every employee hired after November 4, 1986. Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”), all employers must verify that every person that is hired is either: a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or a foreign national with authorization to work in the U.S. Within three business days of beginning the job, the employee must furnish identity and employment eligibility documents. It is the responsibility of the employer to examine the documents to determine whether they are genuine and relate to the specific employee. Once the I-9 form is completed, they are to be kept in office for the longer of three years after employment begins or one year after employment is terminated. Most importantly, if an employee has temporary employment authorization, a reverification of employment eligibility must be conducted prior to expiration of the employment authorization. Moreover, officers of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and Immigration Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) have the right to audit employers’ I-9 forms. DHS/ICE officers conduct an estimated 60,000 I-9 audits a year on employers around the country and have issued fines in excess of $1,000,000. Additionally, each mistake on an I-9 Form counts as a separate violation. All employers are further subject to civil and criminal penalties for knowingly hiring or continuing to employ aliens who are not authorized to work in the U.S. Accurate completion of I-9 forms is a good faith defense to a charge of hiring unauthorized workers.
ICE has increasingly been conducting workplace raids that can have a significant impact on an employer and its workers regardless of status. Results of those raids have been: public relations nightmares, fleeing or arrested workers resulting in loss of work force, loss of productivity, split up families and related humanitarian issues, as well as expensive and protracted litigation. Therefore, the best way for an employer to avoid IRCA problems is to establish a meaningful I-9 audit system.
Such a system should include at least the following elements:
• Education and training of all human resource personnel on the purpose and requirements of IRCA • Establishment of a scheduling system to automatically remind an employer when reverification of a temporary workers’ employment authorization is warranted • Conducting a thorough, annual review of all employee I-9 forms (discarding forms and documentation when necessary, noting re-occurring problems for purposes of future staff training; correcting forms with information supplied in employee personnel files, etc)
As always, it is better to be prepared before ICE comes knocking on the door!