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Mastering the I-9 Form: A Guide for HR Professionals

Among other IRS-required forms, the I-9 Form can be a source of confusion for employers, new hires, and existing employees alike. It’s common to have questions about the purpose of the form, as well as which sections must be completed and which documentation is required to confirm a new hire’s identity and employment eligibility.

In this article, we’ll help employers fully understand the purpose of the I-9 form, how to complete and submit it, and how to avoid criminal penalties for issues with noncompliance, E-verification, or employment authorization.


What is the I-9 Form For?

Form I-9 was created to verify that employers are hiring individuals who are legally permitted to work in the United States. Employers are responsible for confirming the identity and employment eligibility of all of their employees, whether part-time or full-time, and regardless of their immigration or citizenship status. The only employees excluded from I-9 verification are those who were hired before November 7, 1986.

Is the I-9 Form Mandatory?

Yes. Ever since the Immigration and Reform and Control Act of 1986 was passed, employers have been responsible for verifying employee eligibility to work in the United States through the use of Form I-9. Form I-9 must be fully and accurately completed for new hires (and existing employees in certain circumstances). Again, this applies whether a new hire or employee is a citizen or noncitizen.

Form I-9 must be completed by the employee and employer (or approved employer representative). In each case, the employer is ultimately responsible for reviewing employee-submitted verification documents, recording this information on Form I-9, and submitting/retaining Form I-9 for each part-time and full-time employee.

How to Complete the I-9 Form

Here are the necessary steps employers must take to complete Form I-9.

Provide Employee with Form I-9 and Gather Employee Information

Once an employee has been given a digital or paper Form I-9, they must provide details related to their identity, including their full name, DOB, SSN (in some cases), home address, and contact information. They must also provide acceptable documentation that confirms their identity and eligibility to work in the United States. They are responsible for signing and dating the form, which is their official statement and claim of work eligibility. If an applicant is unable to read English or cannot complete their portion of the I-9 Form, a preparer or translator is permitted to assist with the process, excluding the signature, which must be provided by the employee.

Review and Verify All Employee Information and Documents

Once the employee section of the I-9 form has been completed and shared (along with acceptable documentation), the employer must complete the next section of the I-9. In this section, the employer must describe all documentation that was provided by the employee to confirm their employment status. The employer is responsible for reviewing all information and documents, and completing this section of Form I-9 within the first three days of the new hire’s employment. They must also date and sign the employer section of the form, indicating the employee’s first official day of employment.

Retain and Store Copy of I-9 Form and Approved Documentation

Once employee and employer sections of Form I-9 have been completed, it is the employer’s responsibility to retain a copy of the completed and signed I-9. It is also advisable to make copies of the employee’s approved documentation to retain in the event of an audit.

Reverification As Needed

Outside of completing an I-9 for a new hire, sometimes employers seek to re-hire employees who have not worked for three or more years since their original employment with the organization. In this case, an employer will be responsible for filling out the re-hiring section of Form I-9. The employer only needs to note the name of the re-hired employee, the date they were re-hired, and the employee must give their signature to confirm ongoing eligibility to work in the United States. 

List of Acceptable Documentation for I-9

Employees and employers often wonder which documents can be used to verify personal identity and eligibility to work in the United States. Acceptable documentation is delineated into three categories.

List A – Identity & Employment Eligibility

Employees can use just one of these documents to establish their identity, as well as their eligibility for employment in the United States:

  • Valid US Passport
  • Permanent or Temporary Resident Card
  • Employment Authorization Document
  • Foreign Passport with I-551 stamp

List B – Identity Only

An employee can submit a document under List B to verify personal identity only. They are required to jointly submit a document from List C to verify employment eligibility. List B documents include any of the following:

  • State-issued Driver’s License or ID card
  • Native American Tribal Document
  • U.S. Military Card
  • Military Dependent ID Card
  • School ID Card with Photo
  • Voter Registration Card

List C – Employment Eligibility Only

An employee can submit a document from List C to verify employment eligibility only. They must simultaneously submit a document from List B to confirm their personal identity. Eligible List C documents include any of the following:

  • Birth Certificate (Original or Certified Copy)
  • Certification or Consular Report of Birth Abroad
  • Social Security Card
  • Form I-94 – Authorization to Work with Specific Employer

How to File an I-9

Employers are required to file and store completed I-9s in an employee file (digital, physical, or both) and retain the I-9 for three years after the date of hire or one year following job separation/termination (whichever is later). It’s essential to keep I-9s stored in a secure location with permissions and access protection enacted to protect sensitive personal data. Any changes to the form, whether physical or digital, must be documented.

Where to Submit the I-9 Form

Since Form I-9 is not filed with any government agency, it should be physically and/or digitally stored and retained by the employer to remain readily available in the event of an inspection or audit by officials from the U.S. Government.

I-9 audits and inspections by the federal government have increased in recent years, which is why it’s so important to develop an efficient and secure system for storing and retaining the I-9s of current and past employees. Storage in a designated physical facility is always an option, but this can create issues with security, administration, and ease of access in the event of an audit that requires submission of documents within a three-day period (the usual audit timeline). In contrast, HR software can help you store all of the I-9s of current and past employees in one consolidated, secure, cloud-based, encrypted platform, empowering your organization to easily retrieve files, track changes, complete re-verification and more.

When is E-Verify Used?

E-Verify is used to electronically confirm information submitted on Form I-9 using records available to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security. 

While Form I-9 is mandatory, E-Verify is optional/voluntary for most employers. E-Verify requires submission of a Social Security number (SSN) as well as a List B document with a photo. E-Verify can not be used to reverify expired employment authorization; Form I-9 is required under those circumstances.

If an employer elects to use E-Verify for identity and employment verification, they may not use it selectively. Instead, all new hires must be verified through E-Verify.

Simplify Onboarding and Workforce Management with CAVU HCM

Ready to streamline your I-9 Form process and eliminate compliance headaches? Discover how CAVU HCM can help your payroll and HR team master the I-9 Form with ease

Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your onboarding and workforce management processes.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting, or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.