Using the Right I-9

Are You Using the Right I-9 Form?

You might not be aware that the U.S. government recently updated the I-9 form that you’ve been accustomed to handing your new hires. This employment form, which has had several updates since its birth in 1987, has moved into the 21st century with its new “smart” version.

Technically, hiring managers were required to start using the new version from January 22, 2017 onward. But many small business owners (maybe even you) have been unaware of its existence. Not complying in use of the new I-9 form comes with penalties that could range from $216 to $2,156.

The I-9 penalty fees for mistakes, as well as for using an outdated form, recently increased because of an anticipated spike in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement audits. So expect ICE to scrutinize your employees’ I-9s in the future and review all I-9 forms to reduce errors. The new digital form will help with this.

The biggest change to note

The most exciting update to the I-9 is the fact that it can now be filled out online, minimizing the risk of errors or difficult-to-read handwriting. The digital form must still be printed and signed by your employee, or you can work with an electronic I-9 vendor who can process it digitally.

The digital PDF version of the I-9 is actually great news for your company. Rather than bombarding a new hire with a stack of papers to fill out on her first day, you can email her the link to the I-9 ahead of time and ask her to fill it out, then print and sign it on her first day. From there, you can fill out the sections for employment verification and mail it off.

The digital version will flag errors and fields with missing information, drastically reducing the opportunity for mistakes. Once the employee has completed the first section, she can hit the “Click to Finish” button, and at that point her form will be reviewed to ensure all fields are filled out. If any are empty, she’ll be prompted to fill them out.

Other updates on the smart I-9

Expect more detailed instructions on the new version of the I-9. What used to be covered in six pages now takes 15 in an effort to provide more value to users. With the online version, there are three tabs in the document: Instructions, Start Over, and Print. An employee who makes mistakes can always click Start Over to begin filling out the form again.

Section 1 changes

The biggest change in Section 1 of the I-9 is that employees must enter N/A in fields that they have no data to input, such as an apartment number or a middle initial. The form will not allow them to save or print if any fields are left without text.

Also, the field previously listed as “Other Names Used” is now “Other Last Names Used” to protect the privacy of transgender employees.

For foreign workers, there’s slightly less to manage in Section 1. Previously, foreign employees authorized to work in the U.S. had to provide both their I-94 numbers and their foreign passport numbers. Now they have the option to provide either of those or an alien registration number.

And should multiple preparers or translators be involved in filling out the I-9, there are now individual fields for up to five people to sign and date. Previously there was one field for multiple translators or preparers to share, which was frustrating for many users.

Also of note, If neither a translator nor preparer were used, employees now have to check a box indicating that. Otherwise, the form won’t save.

Section 2 changes

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is cracking down on the requirement that the employer representative (that would be you) must be in the physical presence of the employee being verified and must examine original documents verifying employment.

While the digital I-9 is a move toward more tech-savvy practices, the USCIS doesn’t permit employers to verify employment over Skype or FaceTime, or any other webcam interaction. The verification process must still occur in person.

There’s also the addition of a large box in Section 2 for employers to include more information. Some things you can include here are:

  • Electronically verified case number
  • Form retention dates
  • Foreign national’s Temporary Protected Status
  • Employee termination date

Section 3 remains the same

There are no updates or changes in Section 3 for reverification and rehires. However, if you need to reverify an employee now that the January 22 deadline has passed, you will need to do so on the updated form. This is typically only necessary when employment authorization documentation expires.

Additional things to know

While the new I-9 form is somewhat digital, it isn’t entirely so. In other words, it still must be printed, signed and mailed unless you work with an electronic I-9 vendor. Here’s hoping that changes in the future.

You also aren’t required to digitally make entries on the form. If you are more comfortable printing it, you can still have new employees fill out the new form by hand, then sign it. If you’re already sending new hires paperwork via email, adding the I-9 form should be easy enough. If not, stick with your paper onboarding routine.

There are advantages to using the digital version, though. In addition to reducing errors from handwriting, the digital version features handy questionmark circles that users can click to get more details on what each section requires, as well as check mark boxes and dropdowns typical of online forms.

It’s important that you start using the new I-9 form immediately, if you’re not already. If you have hired employees since January 22, 2017, you will need to go back and fill out the updated form to comply with hiring requirements. The new form will be applicable until August 31, 2019.

Need the new I-9 form? Click here.

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