I-9 Worksite Enforcement on the Rise

By Jennifer Pawlak

If you’re reading this, then it probably isn’t headline news to you, but it’s still worth paying attention to. That’s because worksite enforcement is not just on an uptick, it’s on the rise to the tune of 400%-500% over last year. Since January of this year, the government has initiated over 5,200 I-9 inspections, up from 1,360 the entire previous fiscal year (October through September). But, if you just said to yourself, “I only hire U.S. Citizens, so I don’t need to worry about I-9s” then we need to talk. And please read on! (P.S. you’re not allowed to have that policy anyhow (unless a Federal Contract prevails)!)

Form I-9 is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Employment Eligibility Verification form. It is used by all U.S. employers with more than one employee – including Puerto Rico and other territories – to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. It is completed by both citizens and non-citizens – lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders), refugees, asylees, students with work authorization, visa holders, you name it. If you’re hiring anyone, you’re completing an I-9. Often cited as one of the most complex two-page forms ever made, it is not only a dreaded required form, but it carries with it steep penalties for non-completion or incorrect completion. Who knew that filling out one form could be so difficult? The government, that’s who.

Worksite enforcement and investigations are led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) investigations unit, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI “is a critical investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and is a vital U.S. asset in combating criminal organizations illegally exploiting America’s travel, trade, financial and immigration systems.” Historically, ICE and HSI have concentrated their efforts on businesses with high turnover and seasonal workforces and we don’t see that focus shifting any time soon, but increased attention is also being paid to employers with remote and multi-location workforces, as well as franchises.

How do you know what is wrong and right on a form? Here are just a few examples of what constitutes an error on Form I-9:

  • Forgetting to input a birth date
  • Failure to sign or date a form
  • Missing address of employer
  • Using incorrect documents

As you can see, seemingly innocuous mistakes can end up costing your company a hefty fine that is avoidable. Based on government data, the average penalty per Form I-9 is $1,862, and not having an I-9 on file means even more serious penalties. So, a company with 1,000 employees could be facing a $1.8M fine just for having one error on each form!

If you don’t already conduct regular – at least yearly – audits of your I-9s, you should start to do so right away to avoid costly penalties. Contact me today to ask about the services we offer to help keep your company in compliance and out of the headlines. Be prepared for when ICE comes knocking on your door.

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