HR Issues

Make Sure Your I-9 Program Isn't in Cold Storage
Immigration has been a hot topic for a long time, and regardless of where you stand on the issue, there are compliance concerns for all employers to deal with. Some 12 million illegal immigrant workers are said to already be in the United States, with more arriving daily. Most come for jobs and are willing to take even the most undesirable of tasks. That makes the workplace a key line of defense. If such workers can’t get hired, government officials reason, the inflow will dry up. To this end, the U.S. government, through its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, has begun aggressively leaning on companies, big and small, to stop them from hiring illegal immigrants. ICE can freeze your operation and put you in cold storage.

Employers are charged with verifying the legal status of every employee, with the I-9 form as the central document of the verification process. This process, if improperly handled, can result in civil penalties, or, if it can be proved that you “knowingly” hired illegal immigrants for financial gain, can have you spending up to 10 years in prison.

So that employees are properly credited with Social Security credits, employers have to submit their workers’ Social Security numbers along with data on what the employee was paid. This can be done on paper, but it’s quicker and easier to use the SSNVS website ( Regardless of submission method, if the information the worker has submitted does not match what the Social Security Administration (SSA) has on file, a “no-match” notice will be issued. A number of steps must then be taken to check whether the worker is illegal or there was merely an error in the data. No adverse employment actions can be taken against the employee while these checks are in progress.

Basic Pilot is run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and checks identity with both SSA and the Department of Homeland Security with a single submission. This saves time and offers a layer of protection against potentially criminal applicants that submission to SSA alone does not provide.

This crackdown has employers in somewhat of a quandary. On one hand, hiring illegal immigrants can slap employers with penalties and even criminal prosecution if the hiring was “knowingly” done. On the other hand, questioning jobseekers about their national origins, unless handled correctly, opens the door to charges of discrimination. Below is a quick immigration status checklist from EA’s supplier partner, Business & Legal Reports:

  • Ask each jobseeker whether he/she is authorized to work in the United States. Do not ask about place of birth or national origin.
  • Have each new hire fill out a Form I-9 within three days of starting work.
  • Be sure the documents that confirm identity and authorization to work are included in the lists on the back of the I-9 form and that they appear genuine. Accept originals only.
  • Store I-9s for current employees in alphabetical order in one place, and for terminated employees, in chronological order in a separate place.
  • Keep I-9s on file three years for current employees and for one year after an employee has left, whichever is longer.
  • If Social Security issues a “no match” letter, take no action against the employee without first going through the error checking procedures the agency recommends.
  • Consider joining programs that automate status checks, such as Basic Pilot.
  • Train certain staff to handle the I-9 process and let no one else do it.
  • Conduct an annual I-9 audit. Have this done by a third-party firm or someone not involved in the day-to-day I-9 process.

To learn more about the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services go to To download a copy of an I-9 with the instructions go to IBI