U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has indicated that it will triple its I-9 audits this year. When ICE audits your I-9 forms, they may assess civil financial penalties for mistakes made in completing I-9 forms. These types of mistakes are called paperwork violations and are distinct from the more serious violations that result from hiring unauthorized workers. Fines have increased and the laws are being enforced more diligently. Are you prepared?
Fines for paperwork violations range from a minimum of $216 to a maximum of $2,156 for each violation (there can be multiple violations per form). Monetary penalties for knowingly hiring and continuing to employ unauthorized workers range from $539 to $21,563 per violation. In determining penalty amounts, ICE considers five factors: the size of the business, good faith effort to comply, seriousness of the violation, whether the violation involved unauthorized workers, and history of previous violations.
The increased fines demonstrate the government’s increased efforts to more vigorously enforce federal immigration laws and deter employers from hiring unauthorized workers. So what should you be doing to make sure you are prepared in case ICE comes for a surprise visit? In general, be sure to instill thorough record keeping practices in order to identify and prevent any undocumented workers from being hired by your organization. Best practices should include the following:
· Create an internal training program and procedural documentation. This is especially important if you have multiple individuals responsible for completing I-9 forms, to ensure they are being filled out uniformly.
· Educate your team on the broader implications and importance of the I-9 to identify undocumented workers. Oftentimes, employees who are tasked with these duties are less experienced HR people or general administrative staff who see the task as a simple record keeping exercise they can harmlessly let slide or get sloppy with when work volumes increase.
· Originals, not photocopies, of identification that show identity and employment authorization should be produced for review and verification to ensure they are not fraudulent.
· Purge I-9s once they have met the maximum record retention period. After employment ends, an I-9 must be retained either three years after the date of hire or one year after the date employment ends, whichever is later. A very common mistake employers make is keeping I-9 documents longer than required. This needlessly opens up the organization to potential record keeping fines that could have been avoided by destroying I-9s that no longer need to be retained.
- Conduct annual in-house I-9 audits. This will allow you to correct all I-9 mistakes, discover any undocumented workers, and determine if any I-9 employment forms are missing.
Following these best practices, along with accurately completing the I-9 form, should give organizations some peace mind knowing that your organization will be in compliance with the law and can successfully handle a visit from ICE.