As you are likely aware, immigrants constitute a significant segment of the U.S. workforce, making up 18.1% of the civilian labor force in 2022. They contribute their skills and talents to every sector of the economy, from janitorial positions to top executive roles.
For employers, especially those with immigrant employees who came to the U.S. for work, the I-9 form is an essential part of the hiring process. This form, officially known as the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9, is mandatory for verifying the identity and employment eligibility of all employees, including immigrants. It is important to note that while I-9 forms are not submitted to the government, they can be audited by the appropriate authorities to determine the employment eligibility of your workforce.
I-9 audits conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) play a pivotal role in ensuring compliance with employment eligibility verification laws.
In this blog, we will discuss I-9 audits, what transpires if your business fails an I-9 audit, and how you can proactively prevent such a situation.
Understanding the I-9 Form
Before we delve into the repercussions of failing an I-9 audit, let’s take a moment to gain a better understanding of the I-9 form itself. So, what is the I-9 Form? The I-9 form is a mandatory requirement for all employers in the United States, serving as a crucial tool to verify the identity and employment eligibility of their employees, including immigrants.
This form involves specific sections that both the employee and employer must complete, which include the provision and verification of essential documents like passports, driver’s licenses, and Social Security cards. It’s essential to note that completed I-9 forms must be retained by employers for all employees, either for three years after the date of hire or one year after the employee departs from employment, depending on which period is longer.
Consequences of Failing an I-9 Audit
Now, without any further ado, let’s discuss the consequences that ensue if an employer fails an I-9 audit conducted by ICE.
- Civil Fines: When employers fail an I-9 audit, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may impose fines. The fine amount varies depending on the seriousness of the violation and the employer’s size. The fines can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars for each violation. Repeated violations or a consistent pattern of non-compliance can result in even higher penalties.
- Criminal Penalties: If employers knowingly hire unauthorized workers or engage in document fraud, they may face criminal charges. These charges can include both fines and imprisonment.
- Loss of Workforce: Employers who fail an I-9 audit might be required to terminate employees found to be unauthorized to work in the United States. This can result in the loss of skilled or valuable workers, potentially disrupting business operations.
- Reputational Damage: Failing an I-9 audit can tarnish a company’s reputation, making it less appealing to potential employees and customers.
- Legal Liabilities: Employers who fail an I-9 audit may also face legal actions from employees who allege discrimination during the audit process.
Effective Strategies for Preventing I-9 Audit Failures
To Avoid I-9 Audit Failures, Employers Can Implement The Following Best Practices:
- Regular training: Provide thorough training for all employees responsible for completing and maintaining Form I-9, including HR staff, managers, and supervisors. Keep your team up-to-date with changes in immigration laws and compliance requirements.
- Consistent record-keeping: Maintain accurate and organized records, including I-9 forms, in a secure and accessible system. Keep I-9 records for the required retention period, typically three years from the date of hire or one year after the employee leaves, whichever is longer.
- Self-audits: Conduct regular self-audits to identify and correct potential I-9 errors or omissions before an official audit occurs. Correct any errors promptly.
- Legal guidance: Consider consulting an immigration attorney with expertise in employment eligibility verification laws to ensure that your organization complies with all applicable laws and regulations.
- Compliance culture: Foster a culture of compliance within your organization by encouraging all employees to follow I-9 processes diligently and to seek guidance if they have any questions or concerns.
Failing an I-9 audit can result in significant consequences, both financial and legal. To avoid these outcomes, businesses must establish a strong compliance framework, regularly train employees, and conduct self-audits. By following best practices, you can maintain the integrity of your workforce and minimize the risk of failing an I-9 audit.