How to Avoid an Immigration Audit

Date: November 15, 2013

Immigration enforcement is up: Fines and arrests for Form I-9 violations have increased as investigations grew from 250 audits in 2007 to more than 3,000 in 2012.

Form I-9 is a federal document that establishes an employee’s identity and demonstrates he or she is authorized to work in the United States. As a small business owner, you must file a completed Form I-9 for every employee who works for you, including your own family members. 

Failure to ensure proper completion and retention of I-9 forms may subject business owners to civil penalties of up to $1,100 per form, and possibly criminal penalties.

Getting your paperwork in order and performing an internal Form I-9 audit can help your business comply with federal immigration laws. Take the following five steps to protect your business now, before an Immigration and Customs Enforcement inspector shows up at your door.

1. Make sure you are using the right form. Use the revised Form I-9 published on March 8, 2013, for any employee who began working for you on or after May 7, 2013. A copy of the revised form can be found here. You do not need to use this revised form for employees hired before May 7, 2013.

2. Make sure I-9 forms are completed correctly. Ensure that employees complete Section 1 of Form I-9 on their first day of employment. Request only the documents that are listed on Form I-9 to prove identity and work authorization, such as passports, driver’s licenses and Social Security cards. Accept only original documents—no photocopies—to confirm employees are legally allowed to work in the United States. Do not require additional documents from foreign employees.

3. Keep I-9 forms separate from other human resources files. Keeping these files separate will help if you are ever subject to an ICE investigation. In addition, you should keep a separate file for terminated employees. 

4. Conduct an in-house audit of I-9 forms. Begin by making sure you have a Form I-9 on file for all employees. If you do not have a form on file for someone, have that person complete one. In addition, review all I-9 forms for potential mistakes. If you find mistakes, cross out the incorrect information, and add the correct information, your initials and the current date. For more self-auditing tips, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website.

5. Contact a lawyer immediately if you receive a notice. ICE provides only 72 hours to assemble the requested documentation, so act quickly. 

For more tips on how to stay out of immigration-related legal trouble, visit the NFIB Small Business Legal Center’s Compliance Resource Center.

Related Content: Playbook | Immigration | Labor | Rule of Law

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