The I-9 form, or Employment Eligibility Verification form, is deceptive in its simplicity. The Immigration and Nationality Act’s 274A section requires that employers must have an I-9 for all employees, whether they be U.S. citizens or not, and there are a number of parts that can trip you up as an employer.
For example, the I-9 form includes sections that only an employee can fill out, Spanish forms can only be used in a certain part of U.S. territory, and even where you keep the form is important.
Here are the top 10 mistakes employers make regarding I-9 forms, compiled with the help of Mona Movafaghi, an immigration attorney with New Hampshire-based Wiggin & Nourie P.A.
1. Not filling in the blanks. It may seem obvious, but everything must be filled out. Too often, employers leave something they consider inconsequential blank. Don’t even leave the lines for dates blank. Doing so can lead to a fine.
2. Not having the employee fill out Section 1. Section 1 must be filled out by the employee. Again, everything, including the address, needs to be filled out.
3. Filling out the preparer/translator section as an employer. Employers sometimes think they need to fill out the preparer/translator certificate section. In actuality, someone other than the employer needs to act in that role and fill it out.
4. Not keeping the form long enough. A common mistake for employers is that they think they only need to keep the I-9 for three years. Instead, you need to keep it for as long as the employee works for you plus one year or for up to three years, whichever is longer.
5. Handing out the Spanish language form to Spanish-speaking employees. It’s tempting to give your Spanish-speaking employees the Spanish version of the I-9. But resist. That version can only be used in Puerto Rico. However, it can be used as a reference for the employee to fill out the English version.
6. Using the wrong type of visa. When reviewing the worker’s documents, don’t get tripped up by the type of visa provided. Make sure the document is not a tourist visa, which Movafaghi has seen show up in audits.
7. Not inspecting expiration dates. Expired passports used to be acceptable, but no longer. In general, inspect all expiration dates on the documents.
8. Waiting to have employees fill out their part of the I-9. Don’t put off having employees fill out their part of the I-9. They need to have it filled out by the first day of work, and the employer has until the third day. That means, if the employee begins work on a Monday, he or she needs to have the I-9 filled out by then, and — there has been some confusion about this — the employer needs to have his or her section filled out by Wednesday. Movafaghi suggests that employers fill out their part at the same time as the employee so it isn’t forgotten.
9. Requiring certain types of documentation. It is not your choice which documents employees provide. They need only to honor what the I-9 requires: a legitimate document from List A or one document from List B and one from List C. Also, don’t ask for more than the minimum required. If a U.S. citizen provides a passport, for example, a driver’s license isn’t needed.
10. Improperly storing documents. Don’t put the I-9s and any accompanying documents in employees’ files. All of the forms should be in one place.