I-9 Documents and E-Verify: What You Need to Know
It can seem nearly impossible to keep up with the head-spinning pace of changes in employment law. As soon as we get comfortable with a new requirement, something else comes along that changes everything (or so it may seem). Immigration law and the requirement to participate in E-Verify is one example. E-Verify was enacted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and compares information from an employee’s Form I-9 to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to almost instantly verify employment eligibility.
In March, there were over 345,000 employers nationwide using E-Verify. According to USCIS, 1,200 more sign up each week. Although for many employers it is voluntary, as of last month, 17 states now require E-Verify for public or private employers.
Form I-9 is required of every employer in the U.S. and must be kept on file for each employee. The employee must fill out information, and provide identification that both establishes their identity and establishes their right to work in the U.S. Documents may be stored in paper files or electronically, but must be retained for three years after the date of hire, or one year after the employee terminates from employment, whichever is longer. For example, Charlie recently retired from ABC Company after 10 years of employment. ABC Company must retain Charlie’s Form I-9 for a total of 11 years.
The task of documenting and verifying every employee’s identification and eligibility to work can seem overwhelming. Many employers have expressed concern over their responsibility to verify that the photo identification an employee presents is valid. However, as long as employers are using good faith to be reasonably sure presented identification belongs to the employee, they have upheld their responsibility.
The USCIS has published a helpful guide that can be used along with a good dose of common sense. The guide includes common documents that employees often present as means of identification that are not acceptable as genuine, including:
- Photocopies of documents (exception: certified copies of birth certificates.
- Social Security cards that have been laminated if it says “Not valid if laminated” on the back.
- Printouts from the Social Security Administration with the Social Security number and other information on it.
Indicators that the ID presented may not be genuine:
- Document appears to be tampered with – altered typing or the photo appears to have been glued.
- Some of the typing is in a different font.
- Birthdates are different from each other or Section 1 of Form I-9.
If the employee’s ID looks genuine and is easily related to the person, you must accept the documentation provided. If you do otherwise, your company could be at risk of liability related to discrimination or an immigration-related unfair employment practice.