Understanding the I-9: the Employment Eligibility Verification Form


In 1986, the federal government passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which required employers to verify that employees were able to provide documents proving their legal authorization to work in the United States. The Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9) is the official document provided for this purpose.Employees must fill out an I-9 no later than the time of hire. Employers are responsible for making sure their new hire fills out Section 1 completely, and on time.Employees must retain an I-9 for all current employees, and all former employees for three years after the employee is hired or one year after the termination of that employee, whichever date is later. I-9s must be stored separately from personal information files. 

I-9s are NOT required for unpaid volunteers or contractors, but employers may still be penalized if they contract work to a contractor that employs unauthorized workers.

I-9 Form

I-9s are broken into 3 sections:

  • Employee Information and Verification – filled out by all new employees hired after November 6, 1986. Asks a new employee to fill out basic information (name, address, D.O.B, &c). New employees do not have to provide their SSN unless they’re using the USCIS Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification Perogram (E-Verify). For more information on E-Verify, click here.
  • Employer Review and Verification – employees are required to present employer with either ONE document that establishes both identity and employment authorization (such as a U.S. Passport or a Permanent Resident Card) or both a document that establishes identity and a document that establishes employment authorization (state drivers license AND social security card, or school ID card with photo AND U.S. Citizen ID card, for example). The employer records the details of these documents and signs the I-9, verifying that they are legitimate. Page 5 of the I-9 form lists all acceptable forms of identification.
  • Updating and Verification – employers fill this section out if
    • employee changes their name
    • employee is rehired within three years of initial hire date
    • employee’s work authorization is approaching expiration

Employers are required to pair the I-9 with the form instructions – and with good reason. The instructions offer specific information that’s helpful to employers and their new hires alike.


Employers can incur penalties for the following Form I-9 related offenses:

  • Improperly kept I-9s (ex. found with personal information, not readily accessible, &c.) – fine up to $110 per missing document, and $1,100 per form – and that’s even if the employee is authorized to work in the US.
  • Hiring an unauthorized worker – fine from $250 – $5,500 per worker and possible 1 year bar from federal government contracts (example?)
  • Knowingly committing or participating in document fraud – first offense fine from $375 – $3, 200 per document, subsequent offense fine from $3,200 – $6,500 per document

Additional unfair immigration-related employment penalties may result from requesting more documentation than is required on the I-9, so be careful not to accidentally incur a penalty attempting to be thorough.

Additional Resources

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Website – When in doubt, go straight to the source. The USCIS website is full of helpful information for employers (most notably this PDF ‘Handbook for Employers: Instructions for Completing Form I-9‘). Simply search ‘I-9’ from their homepage to access a list of resources offered through their website.
  • Intuit’s Form I-9 Tip SheetAnother handy PDF with fast facts, checklists, and – especially handy – I-9 do’s and don’ts


All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only, it is not to be used as legal advice…” Click here to read the rest of our blog disclaimer.


About Pamiris, Inc.
Pamiris is an outsourced payroll, HR, and time tracking service provider with offices located in Portland, OR and Spokane, WA.

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