This summer will see a wave of I-9 audits. That’s what Derek N. Benner, acting executive associate director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) told The Associated Press, likely pushing this fiscal year’s audit total to over 5,000.  He also said HSI hopes to initiate up to 15,000 such audits a year.

So far, the agency is making good on its claims. Audits at 100 7-Eleven franchises began in January of this year. In a February Boston Globe article, Akilah Johnson reported that arrests of undocumented immigrants in Boston were up more than 50 percent. In April, agents arrested around 100 workers in a Tennessee meatpacking plant. And most recently, according to an Associated Press article, on June 5, agents arrested 114 workers at two locations of an Ohio gardening and landscaping company, Corso’s Flower & Garden Center. While no criminal charges were filed against the company, a large number of documents were seized and the company is under investigation.

Increase in audits

ICE workplace audits have already doubled over those conducted last year. According to an ICE news release, in fiscal year 2017, running from October through September, HSI opened 1,360 I-9 audits. From October 2017 through May 4, 2018, they have opened 2,982 I-9 audits.

According to Benner, it’s part of the plan: “Our worksite enforcement strategy continues to focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly break the law and the use of I-9 audits and civil fines to encourage compliance with the law.”

Culture of compliance

While the current focus on increased audits and arrests is new, the law isn’t. Since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), employers have been required to verify the identity and work eligibility of all their employees and must document that with completion of the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9. The original completed Forms I-9 of current employees must be kept on file and available for inspection. Forms I-9 for former employees must be retained for three years from date of hire or for one year after termination.

In the news release, ICE Deputy Director, Thomas Homan, called for increased worksite investigations to “…ensure U.S. businesses maintain a culture of compliance,” and Benner is quoted saying that “…integrity of their employment records is just as important to the federal government as the integrity of their tax files and banking records.”

Increased fines

Audits aren’t the first thing to increase. In 2016, fines for IRCA violations covering everything from minor paperwork infractions to knowingly hiring unauthorized persons increased substantially, “catching up” with inflation. Fines are now recalculated every year to adjust for inflation. Currently, for a paperwork violation—could be as simple as a missing birth date or signature—fines range from $220-$2,191. (See the Federal Register for more information.)

ICE’s three-pronged approach

ICE approaches worksite enforcement with a three-pronged approach:

  • Compliance: I-9 audits, civil fines, referrals for debarment
  • Enforcement: Criminal arrests of employers and administrative arrest of unauthorized workers
  • Outreach: ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) providing education and training to help employers comply with the law.

The IMAGE program offers certification to employers who complete and self-assessment questionnaire, enroll in E-Verify program within 60 days, establish a written hiring and employment eligibility verification policy, submit to a Form I-9 inspection, and review and sign an IMAGE partnership agreement with ICE.

Are you ready?

If ICE knocks at your door, will you have everything they need quickly to hand? What can you do to prepare for an audit and to ensure your records are complete? I-9 Central has a number of sections to help you with completing, correcting, storing, and responding to an inspection of your files. It also has a section on common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Conduct self-audits or hire counsel to audit your forms. (See SHRM Self-Auditing Your I-9 Forms? Know These Rules)
  • Make sure you are using the current I-9 form.
  • Keep Form I-9s filed separately from other employee personnel files. This makes the forms easy to access and also protects employee personal data.
  • Have an established procedure for filling out and filing forms, ensuring those responsible for onboarding know how to complete the I-9. (Even small mistakes, like using the wrong format for dates, can result in fines.)

Electronic Form I-9

The Form I-9 is full of places where mistakes can be made. A sixty-nine page manual for a 2-3 page form attests to that!

Electronic Form I-9s can help reduce errors and makes storage and retrieval for an audit quick and easy. Our Sage HRMS HR Actions Form I-9 will lead you step-by-step as you complete the form with its hover help text providing information for each field. And, after the form is finished, our product helps ensure compliance by automatically checking the document and flagging the majority of improper entries. For example, simple mistakes like forgetting to check a required box or entering the date of completion in an incorrect format, will be flagged so you can correct them before saving the document. As small as such mistakes seem, they can add up to substantial fines.

Find out more

To learn more about our electronic Sage HRMS HR Actions Form I-9 and paperless onboarding with Sage HRMS HR Actions, visit our website, sign up to attend one of our onboarding or paperless workflow webinars, contact us at 888.421.2004, or use the CONTACT SALES button on our website.

Mary van Balen
Mary van Balen
Technical Writer at Delphia Consulting
Mary van Balen is based out of Columbus, Ohio and is a writer for Delphia Consulting. Mary contributes to the Delphia blog on Human Resources issues and Delphia Consulting and Sage product related updates.