The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a new version of the Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9), which is effective immediately. Employers may continue to use the current Form I-9 through January 21, 2017, but after that date, the new Form I-9 is mandatory. Employers are required to verify the identity and work authorization of all employees that are hired and maintain an I-9 form on file for every employee on their payroll. The new Form I-9 is supposed to be more user friendly and should clarify the process and correct many common mistakes made in the old Form I-9.

There are several changes and some improvements to the new Form I-9, including the format of the document. The new form is now available in a .pdf format that allows employees and employers to download and complete. The “smart form” may not be submitted online, however, and employers must still print and sign the document accordingly. A feature of the new smart form is the document will pre-populate some of the information entered, or it will populate N/A in sections applicable. The form also includes drop-down lists and calendars for certain fields and will automatically flag any missing fields. Another new feature is a dedicated empty space for employers to enter additional information that was previously added to the margins of the form. Throughout the new Form I-9 there are updated clarifications, for example the old Form I-9 contains a place for “Other Names Used” in Section I, and the new Form I-9 changes that to “Other Last Names Used.” There is also a new Form I-9 Supplement, which should be filled out by the form’s preparer or translator.

The new Form I-9 has updated instructions that are longer and provide much more detail than previously came with the old form. The new Form I-9 and the instructions are now available in Spanish. These instructions are now separate from the Form I-9. In addition to the Form I-9 and the instructions, employers must also provide new employees with a list of acceptable document that states the employee’s identity and employment authorization. This list of acceptable verification documents has not been updated or changed.

It should be noted that employers who use electronic I-9 software need to ensure the software is updated with the correct version of the Form I-9. The responsibility for accurate digital information will fall on the employer, so it is imperative to make certain the software is complete and up-to-date and is keeping accurate audit trails. Employers who do not use this software must still print the Form I-9 and obtain handwritten signatures. Many companies are making the switch to E-Verify, an internet-based system through USCIS that allows businesses to keep the Form I-9 data for all employees. The information entered by the Form I-9s are verified through USCIS to determine accuracy. E-Verify also allows for electronic signatures.

Employers who fail to complete the Form I-9, or do so incorrectly, may face significant fines. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently finalized a rule that will increase fees for immigration-related offenses, including Form I-9 and E-Verify violations. These paperwork violation penalties have increased by 96% from a range of $216 – $2156 to $110 – $1,100. This fee increase shows the government’s increased efforts to enforce immigration laws and deter employers from hiring unauthorized workers. With this fee hike, it is more important than ever that employers ensure their From I-9 documents are accurate and there are procedures in place to ensure proper filing and compliance. The increased fee rule goes into effect on December 23, 2016.