Best Practices for Employers to Store Form I-9

Form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification, is a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) form used to verify an employee’s identity and employment authorization to work in the United States.  All employers in the United States are required to ensure each individual hired for employment properly completes a Form I-9.  Employers are also required to retain original I-9 forms for 3 years after the date of hire, or one year after the date employment ends, whichever is later, so that the records are available for possible inspection by the federal government.

USCIS provides a Portable Document Format (PDF) fillable-printable Form I-9 from its website, uscis.gov, or employers may generate and retain Form I-9s electronically as long as the employee receives instructions for completing the form and:

  • The resulting form is legible;
  • No change is made to the name, content, or sequence of the data elements and instructions;
  • No additional data elements or language are inserted; and
  • The standards specified in the regulations are met.

If Form I-9s are retained in paper form, employers should avoid storing I-9 records in employee’s personnel files.  This is because employers must meet a 3-day deadline for official inspection by USCIS and it may be difficult to extract records from individual personnel files before the deadline expires, particularly if a large number of employees are involved.  We recommend employers create a separate secure file for all I-9s to be stored.

If employers choose to maintain Form I-9s electronically, the electronic storage system should include the following:

  • Clear audit trails that detail when a Form I-9 is created, completed, modified, updated or corrected. This provides assurance that when the electronic record is created or updated, there is a permanent and secure record to establish the date of access, the identity of the individual who accessed the electronic records, and a history of the action taken.
  • Controls to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the system.
  • Controls to detect and prevent the unauthorized access to, or creation, alteration or deletion of stored Form I-9s, including the electronic signature, if used.
  • An inspection and quality assurance program that regularly evaluates the electronic generation or storage system, and includes periodic checks of electronically stored Form I-9s.
  • An indexing system that allows the identification and retrieval for viewing or reproducing of relevant documents and records maintained in an electronic storage system.
  • The ability to produce legible and readable paper copies.

For each electronic generation or storage system used for Form I-9s, employers must maintain and make available upon request complete descriptions of:

  • The electronic generation and storage system, including all procedures relating to its use.
  • The indexing system that allows the identification and retrieval or relevant documents and records maintained in an electronic system. Employers are not required to maintain separate indexing databases for each system if comparable results can be achieved without separate indexing d

Regardless of how Form I-9s are stored, employers should institute an alert system triggering reminders to re-verify with employees who present work authorizations which bear an expiration date, and to accurately dispose of old forms.  For example, if an employee indicates in Section 1 that they are an alien authorized to work until a certain date, the employer must follow up with the employee to update their Form I-9 with the related work authorization documents.  This includes employment authorization cards, foreign passports, and I-9 records.  It’s a good idea to set these reminders 90 days in advance of expiring documents, and to set additional 60 and 30-day reminders before the expiration date, to ensure the employee is afforded every opportunity to take the necessary steps to obtain the necessary documents to be re-verified.

I-9 compliance penalties can be severe.  A simple clerical mistake, if performed on every form, can result in tens of thousands of dollars in fines.  PMP can perform an I-9 audit to identify problematic areas and work with you to correct the errors to ensure that your Form I-9s are in compliance.



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