I-9 Compliance: What is It and Why is It Important for Your Business?


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All businesses have to follow a long list of regulations and policies to remain compliant, and while they may seem like a pain, they’re put in place to keep employees and employers safe. To conduct business in America, understanding the implications of 1-9 compliance is necessary.

What is I-9 Compliance?

I-9 compliance is a key component of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. The purpose of this law is to ensure employers are hiring workers who are authorized to work in the US. This law was created to stop licensed US employers from hiring illegal immigrants.

What Does I-9 Prohibit Employers From Doing?

Navigating I-9 compliance in human resources can be tricky, so it may help to understand what businesses can and can’t do to comply. The IRCA requires that all employers, regardless of the number of employees they currently employ, verify the identity and status of all employees.

However, it prohibits discrimination based on a person’s citizenship or national origin. Employers can’t use the IRCA to turn people away because they suspect they aren’t American citizens. 

More specifically, the IRCA prohibits employers from:


  • Knowingly hiring illegal immigrants who aren’t authorized to work in the US.
  • Hiring any individual, regardless of status, without verifying their identity first.
  • Continuing to employ an individual who isn’t authorized to work in the US.
  • Knowingly forging, altering, or falsifying documents to satisfy the IRCA.
  • Knowingly accepting or submitting falsified or altered immigration documents.
  • Firing an authorized employee based on their origin or citizenship status.
  • Intentionally asking for more documents than required for Form 1-9 purposes.
  • Refusing Form 1-9 documents on the basis that they don’t look genuine


If an illegal immigrant was hired before November 7th, 1986, they are grandfathered into the company. So long as they continue employment in your company, you don’t have to check their immigration status or fire them. However, they’ll lose their grandfather status if they are lawfully terminated or are rehired for any reason, such as after a layoff or an extended leave of absence.

What Employers Need to Know About Being 1-9 Compliant 

Just like F-1 students have to comply with laws governing their stay, employers also have to follow IRCA immigration rules. Here’s what employers need to know about 1-9 compliance.

Being I-9 Compliant Isn’t a Matter of Opinion 

Staying I-9 compliant is necessary if employers want to continue operating their businesses. It doesn’t matter what type of company they’re running or what industry they’re a part of; being compliant is the law. That means they have to complete Form 1-9 for every single applicant.

Employers Must Fill Out Form I-9 Properly

Employers must fill out Section 1 by the person’s first work day and Section 2 by the end of the third business day. It must be filled out accurately using the information found on the employee’s ID identifying and employment eligibility documents, or the employer could be found liable.

Keep Copies Of All Employee Documents

Employers are responsible for keeping up-to-date employee documents. These include Form I-9, Form W-4, State Tax Withholding Forms, and Direct Deposit Forms. If you’re using the E-Verify system, then you’ll have to keep a copy of your employee’s ID photos on file.

Follow Up On Documents and Expiry Dates

In some cases, your employee will be legally allowed to work in the US at the time they’re hired, but their documents are set to expire during the duration of their employment. You’ll need to stay on top of expiry dates to ensure your employees are still eligible to work at a US business.

Designate a Special Place for all I-9 Forms

At an undisclosed date, your business could get slapped with an audit or raid by ICE. To avoid any problems, you’ll want to keep your I-9 forms within reach. If you have multiple locations, keep separate copies at each business. Or, scan them and put the forms in an encrypted folder.

Meet Immigration Form Retention Guidelines

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices, employers should keep all I-9 forms for a minimum of three years from the date of hire or a year after termination. After meeting those guidelines, they must be destroyed to the point that they’re unreadable.

What Are the Consequences of Being Non-Compliant? 

If a business is found to be non-compliant, the consequences range from civil to criminal violations. It depends on the severity of the crime and whether the violation was intentional.

Civil violations occur when a company hires an illegal immigrant, continues to employ an illegal immigrant, or fails to conduct proper employment verification. A civil violation may also occur if the company commits document fraud, discrimination, or fails to mail Form I-9 on time.

A criminal violation is a result of a documented pattern of behavior. The company or individual would have to commit multiple civil violations before they’re charged with a criminal offense.

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