The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently released a new version of the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 (the “New Form”). Employers are required to start using the New Form by January 21, 2017. The penalties for non-compliance dramatically increased recently as well, making it critical that employers become familiar with the New Form and make sure that they are I-9 compliant.

What Is Form I-9?

Form I-9 is used for verifying the employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the US. Federal immigration law requires that US employers ensure proper completion of the Form I-9 for each employee they hire. The employer and the employee are required to fill out a joint form. The employee is also required to submit acceptable documentation evidencing identity and employment authorization. Employers are then required to examine the documents, record the information on the Form I-9, and retain a copy of the Form I-9.

The New Form’s “Smart” Features

The most significant change with the New Form is that it is available as a PDF document, which can be filled out online utilizing software found on most computers. The online version includes innovative “Smart” features that will assist employers and employees in properly completing the New Form. These features include drop-down menus, hover text, and real-time error messages.

However, whether filling out the electronic or paper version of the New Form, employers still are required to sign a printed copy of the New Form and retain a hard copy.

Recent Increased Fines for I-9 Violations

A revised fine schedule for I-9 violations took effect August 2016. It implemented significantly higher civil fines against employers who commit certain immigration-related offenses. For each Form I-9 paperwork violation, the most common type of I-9 violation, the fine range nearly doubled: from $110–$1,100 to $216–$2,156. Fines also increased for knowingly employing unauthorized workers (now ranging from $539–$21,563 per violation, depending on the number of offenses) and for unfair immigration-related employment practices, defined as when an employer treats applicants or new hires differently based on immigration status (up to $17,816 per violation based on the number of offenses). Fines for “document abuse” – which occurs when an employer asks for specific documents from the employee for the I-9 process or for more or different documents after the employee has already presented sufficient I-9 documents – also increased and now range from $178–$1,782 per violation. There are also fines for E-verify employers that fail to inform the federal Department of Homeland Security of continuing employment following final non-confirmation. Employers can access a table of all new fines for immigration-related offenses here.

Although the increase in fines took effect August 2016, it applies to all Form I-9 violations that took place after November 2, 2015. This means that employers may already be subject to increased fines for violations that took place over a year ago. Therefore, employers that have not done so should now review their Form I-9 records to ensure compliance with the law. Catching and correcting errors before a governmental investigation, can reduce exposure dramatically. Minor errors will add up quickly. Lewis Rice can assist you with mitigating risk and becoming compliant

Conclusion

We seem to be entering an era of stronger enforcement of immigration laws, including stricter I-9 compliance. Increased fines are one indication. Employers would be well served to familiarize themselves with the New Form and to double-check I-9 compliance.