Following a recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announcement about the Obama Administration’s immigration enforcement agenda (see our May 2009 Immigration Alert), on July 1 the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau of DHS announced an initiative to step up audits of employers’ Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 and related employment records. The ICE Notice alerts business owners that ICE will be inspecting their hiring records to ensure compliance with employment eligibility verification laws and regulations.

ICE also announced on July 1 that it was serving 652 businesses throughout the United States with Notices of Inspection (NOIs) of their I-9s and related employment records. ICE stated that the businesses served were selected for inspection as a result of leads and information obtained through other investigative means. A NOI typically gives the employer only three days to turn over the requested material. The inspection determines whether or not a company is in compliance with employment verification laws including maintaining complete and accurate I-9s for each employee. It should be noted that for all of fiscal year 2008 ICE issued only 503 NOIs.

As the government shifts its focus from worksite enforcement actions to I-9 audits, employers should ensure their compliance with employment verification and I-9 record keeping laws. Employers should also establish or review I-9 policies in addition to conducting periodic training of their hiring personnel to ensure proper compliance. It is important to remember that penalties for failure to comply with Form I-9 paperwork requirements range from US$110 to US$1,100 for each violation. Penalties for hiring or continuing to employ an unauthorized person range from US$375 to US$11,000 for each unauthorized person.

In a related development, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on June 30 that the Form I-9 (Rev. 02/02/09) currently on the USCIS website is valid for use beyond June 30, 2009. USCIS will update Form I-9 when the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approves its continued use. Thereafter, employers will be able to use either the Form I-9 with the new revision date or the Form I-9 with the 02/02/09 revision date at the bottom of the form.