Understanding the I-9 Form and Who is Eligible to Work
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Understanding the I-9 Form and Who is Eligible to Work

What do the immigration rules mean to employers
Verifying identity
Documenting eligibility to work
The records you must keep

To hire smart (and legally), you need to look at more than just a person’s skills and experience — you also need to verify that he or she is eligible to work in the United States.

What do the immigration rules mean to employers?


Beginning in 1986, employers were enlisted as the first round of defense against illegal immigrants working in the U.S. In addition to job application forms and other standard employee new hire forms most companies require, the I-9 form was created. All employers were required to check job applicant’s identities and work status before hiring.

Since then, the form, the I-9 regulations, the acceptable forms of ID and the penalties for not following the rules have all changed significantly. With today’s steep fines and penalties, coupled with stepped-up enforcement of I-9 compliance, it’s more essential than ever that employers understand exactly what’s required of them when they hire new employees.

Verifying identity

Within three days of hiring an employee, every employer must ensure that the employee has completed an employment verification form, commonly referred to as an I-9 Form. In addition, you must confirm the employee’s identity and work eligibility by reviewing specific forms of documentation. They then have three days to apply for, and up to 90 days to present official proof of their identity and work status.

The initial list of acceptable identification forms has been whittled down to only a few, including passports, driver’s licenses, work authorization forms and birth certificates. Some are acceptable on their own, while others require a secondary form of identification. A few additional types of identification such as school records are acceptable for prospective employees under the age of 18.

Documenting eligibility to work

Once a prospective employee has provided one or more of the acceptable forms of identification or proof of application for one of them, it’s the employer’s responsibility to make sure the applicant completes the I9 form completely, correctly and accurately. The employer is also responsible for entering the type of ID reviewed, along with any unique numbers such as license number, student number or passport number. No photocopies are required, although the employer may chose to do so. Employers must also make sure they are using a new I-9 form and not an older, expired version.

Hiring immigrants, even those who are not U.S. citizens is not illegal. However, if the prospective employee is not a U.S. citizen, s/he must present documentation authorizing them to work in this country. It is the employer’s responsibility to make sure the paperwork is current and valid for the type of work offered.

The records you must keep

The I-9 form remains at the employer’s work site. It does not need to be submitted to any government agency. Once signed, an electronic version may be retained to reduce paperwork storage needs. No photocopies of the ID’s submitted are required.

While the forms may be stored in each employee’s personnel file, it is generally recommended that I-9 forms be kept in a separate binder, folder or computer file. This makes retrieval easier should your business be audited for I-9 compliance, and it shields confidential employee records not connected with immigration issues from DHS inspectors.

Understanding and following any I-9 changes and the latest eligibility verification rules are more important than ever, especially due to the increased chance of an I-9 compliance audit by the Department of Homeland Security. For every I-9 Form that isn’t complete or accurate, you could face up to $1,100 in penalties. Protect yourself from an I-9 compliance audit with the mandatory I-9 Form, clear I-9 form instructions and practical guidance on legal hiring practices.

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