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What Is Form I-9? A Complete Guide For Employers

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Under federal law, employers are required to use Form I-9 to verify an employee’s identity and confirm legal eligibility to work in the US. Form I-9 must be completed during the onboarding process for W-2 employees and stored for a set period of time during and after employment. Organizations that fail to comply with Form I-9 documentation could face costly civil and criminal penalties. In this article, we’ll cover what employers should know about Form I-9 and its requirements, how to fill it out, and how to maintain compliance.

What Is Form I-9?

Form I-9, also called Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification, is a government-issued document used to verify a W-2 employee’s identity and confirm their legal authorization to work in the US. Under the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), US employers cannot legally hire a W-2 employee without completing Form I-9 and keeping it on file. 

What Is Form I-9 Used For?

Form I-9 is used to confirm a W-2 employee’s identity and document their authorization to work in the US. Form I-9 employment eligibility must be completed by the employer within three days of the employee’s first day of employment. 

During Form I-9 verification, the employee must complete the first section of the form on or before their first day. The employer reviews the employee’s official identification documents, such as a US passport, and then completes the second section. 

Who Needs To Complete Form I-9?

Under federal law, all US employers, and authorized employer representatives, need to complete Form I-9 as part of the employee onboarding process. Form I-9 verification must be completed when hiring both US citizens and noncitizens for part- and full-time W-2 employment. Form I-9 is not required for volunteers, contractors, or non W-2 employees. 

In some cases, employers may also need to complete Form I-9 to re-verify an existing employee’s work authorization or document a rehire. Employers must submit Form I-9 in English. While a Spanish-language version of Form I-9 is available, employers may only use it for translation purposes, unless based in Puerto Rico. 

How To Get A Form I-9

Employers can download a fillable digital copy of Form I-9 from the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. Form I-9 can also be printed out as a hardcopy, photocopied, and distributed to employees. Employers can also choose to order copies by phone or mail from the USCIS.

How Do You Fill Out Form I-9?

Form I-9 is made up of two separate sections. Section 1 is first completed by the employee and then the employer completes Section 2. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure Form I-9 requirements, including proper completion for both Section 1 and 2 along with document verification. 

Employers that do not fill out Form I-9 correctly or check documentation properly could face penalties, making it important to check for errors before submitting. Employers are responsible for instructing employees on how to complete Form I-9. You can find detailed directions for both employees and employers on the USCIS website. 

Here’s a closer look at how to fill out Form I-9:

Section 1

Section 1 is completed by the employee, who may enter information such as:

  • Full legal name
  • Other legal last names used, including a maiden name (if applicable)
  • Current address
  • Date of birth
  • Check the appropriate box indicating citizenship or immigration status
  • If applicable, A-Number/USCIS Number, Form I-94 admission number, or foreign passport number and the date employment authorization expires

Employers may review this section to ensure that the employee:

  • Completed all required fields
  • Signed and dated the forms

If the employer is participating in the E-Verify I-9 Form process, the employee will also need to provide their Social Security number as issued by the Social Security Administration.

The employee must then sign and date Section 1 on the actual date of Form I-9 completion. Backdating is not permitted. After Section 1 has been completed, the employee must present the form along with identity documentation. 

Section 2

Section 2 is completed by the employer and involves verifying the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents. Before completing Section 2, employers should first review Section 1 for accuracy. If there are errors or missing information, the employee must correct any errors or complete missing information and initial and date any edits before resubmitting.

Employees may then ‌present either:

  • One document from List A (showing both identity and employment authorization), or
  • One document from List B (showing identity) and one document from List C (showing employment authorization)

The employer or an employer authorized representative may then:

  • Physically examine each document in person to determine if it appears genuine and original. Employers participating in E-Verify may use an alternative remote procedure introduced in August 2023 to examine documents over a video call.
  • Enter the document title, issuing authority, document number (if any), and expiration date (if any) of each document presented. Check the appropriate box if you participate in E-Verify and have remotely examined your employee’s documents.
  • Record any additional employer information indicated on the form.

Examination can be done physically, or using an alternate procedure authorized by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Documentation must be original, unexpired, and from the lists of acceptable documents (see below). Photocopies are not permitted unless certified copies of birth certifications. If the employee submits unacceptable documentation, the employer can request alternative documentation.

After accepting the documentation, the employer enters information such as document title, expiration date, issuing authority, and document numbers, depending on the type of documentation provided. The employer will also need to enter the date the employee started the position, and any other relevant employer information. If an alternate procedure was used to verify documentation, the employer must note this in Section 2. Finally, the employer must sign and date the form. 

What Documents Are Needed For Form I-9?

As part of Form I-9 documentation, the employee must submit certain identifying documents to the employer for review and confirm the employee’s identity. 

Presenting just one document from List A is sufficient documentation for the I-9 employment form. Employees can also provide one document proving their identity and a second document showing their employment authorization.

Here’s a closer look at the types of Form I-9 acceptable documents: 

list A

  • US passport or US passport Card
  • Permanent Resident Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card
  • Employment Authorization Document Card
  • Some foreign passports

List B

  • Driver’s license 
  • Identification card issued by state or outlying territory of the US, such as:
    • Voter registration card
    • US military card or draft record
    • Native American tribal document
    • Driver’s license issued by a Canadian government authority

Note: Individuals under the age of 18 that do not have the above documentation may also present a school record or report card; clinic, doctor, or hospital record; or day care or nursery school record.

List C

  • US Social Security number Card
  • Certificate of Birth Abroad issued by the Department of State
  • Certificate of Report of Birth issued by the Department of State
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad
  • Original/Certified Copy of Birth Certificate
  • US Citizen ID Card
  • Identification Card For Use Of Resident Citizen

Where To Submit Form I-9

Form I-9 verification does not require employers to submit completed forms to the USCIS or any other government agency. Instead, employers must retain a copy of an employee’s completed Form I-9 in case of an inspection by DHS, Department of Labor, or other employment-related government division. 
Some employers may be required or choose to submit the forms to the federal E-Verify system. Employers should work with legal counsel to determine their E-verify requirements. When used, E-Verify compares the information on the employee’s Form I-9 to data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the DHS to electronically confirm the employee’s information.

Form I-9 Compliance Requirements

To avoid potential Form I-9 penalties and Form I-9 fines, which can include civil and criminal violations, employers must be sure to follow Form I-9 compliance requirements. Employers should look for common errors such as missing information, illegible writing, using an outdated version, or staples blocking information. 

More serious violations include not completing Form I-9 in the mandatory time frame or asking employees to submit a specific document, like a passport, that could be construed as discriminatory.

Form I-9 Retention Requirements

Employers are required by law to follow certain I-9 Form retention requirements to determine how long employers are required to keep I-9 Forms. An original copy of the Form I-9 must be maintained, along with any photocopies of documentation, for as long as the employee works for the employer. Employers that use E-Verify may be subject to additional Form I-9 retention requirements.

I-9 Form retention rules require that forms must be stored for three years after the hire date or one year after the employee leaves the company (whichever is later). Recruiters and certain referrers for a fee must retain documentation for three years after the first date of employment. 

Additional FAQs About Form I-9

Here are some other commonly asked questions that may be useful for employers when completing Form I-9:

Is an I-9 Form a background check?

An I-9 Form is not the same as a background check. Employers often conduct pre-employment background checks as part of their hiring process, which may include employment, education, criminal history, and more. The Form 1-9 process is instead part of employee onboarding, which is completed once a candidate has been hired. 

Who fills out an I-9 form?

Both the employee and employer are required to complete their designated section on Form I-9. Employees fill out Section 1, and the employer reviews and fills out Section 2.

What happens if employees fail to fill out a Form I-9?

Employers are required by law to complete Form I-9 for all W-2 employees within three days of the employee’s first date of employment. Failure to fill out Form I-9 may result in civil or criminal penalties. 

How often should Form I-9s be updated?

An employee’s Form I-9 may need to be updated for reverification or during a rehire. Additionally, if a current employee isn’t a US citizen or noncitizen national, their I-9 must be updated when their employment authorization in the US (or their documentation of that authorization) expires.

W-9 vs I-9: What’s the difference?

The W-9 form is used by employers to verify information for independent contractors to generate a 1099 tax form, which is required for income tax filing purposes. Form I-9, on the other hand, is used by employers to verify the identity and employment authorization of W-2 employees. 

Maintain Compliance With I-9 Verification Services

Employers must complete Form I-9 in a timely fashion, store them appropriately, and be ready to produce them if requested during an inspection. Manual processes during employee onboarding can slow human resources teams and leave you at risk for compliance errors.

Reduce the amount of paperwork you need to track and monitor with digital I-9 verification services provided by Checkr (GoodHire is a Checkr company). Its streamlined processes, automated I-9 tasks and notifications and E-Verify compatibility, allow employers to quickly import data fast and efficiently—letting them onboard great talent faster. Get started today.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

Lauren Woodyard headshot

As GoodHire’s Content Marketing Manager, Lauren develops resources to educate on employment screening best practices and compliance. She also writes about GoodHire’s platform and company news.