Enforcement Action Increases to Encourage I-9 Form Compliance

In 1986, with the enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, employers were required to verify the identity and employment eligibility of their employees. To encourage compliance a number of criminal and civil penalties were created. Recently, these sanctions have been increased in an attempt by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)and Department of Justice (DOJ) “to turn up the heat” on violators.

The objective of the latest round of penalty increases is, to address what ICE and DOJ see as significant document abuse and discriminatory immigration-related employment practices from employers. According to UCE and DOJ, discriminatory practices are described as “unfair immigration-related employment practices when an employer treats job applicants and new hires differently based upon their immigration status while implementing I-9 procedures or addressing I-9 issues.” Recently, under the new penalty scheme, one employer faced more than $800,000 in penalties, and this is just one of many examples of where companies can now face fines ranging from $178 per document violation to over $17,800 for each unfair immigration-related employment practices.

The new penalties came into effect August 1, 2016, but apply to any sanctions for violations that occurred after November 2, 2015.

With the announcement of the new penalties, the Department of Homeland Security also announced a new version of the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form that was last updated in 2013. This is at least the 10th version of the I-9 Form that has been issued in an attempt to make the verification process more user-friendly.

With the increase in penalties and greater enforcement actions recently announced, employers are encouraged to make I-9 compliance an important part of normal business operations. It is suggested that proper training should be put in place in order to handle I-9 compliance duties accordingly, as the I-9 compliance function should be a basic task and employers need to recognize the financial risks of non-compliance.

Some of the penalties that employers can face are:

Document abuse$178 – $1,782
Unfair immigration-related employment practices (first offense)$445 – $3,563
Unfair immigration-related employment practices (second offense)$3,563 – $8,908
Unfair immigration-related employment practices (third or more offenses)$5,345 – $17,816

The new penalties are seen as a practical approach to deterring illegal employment and creating a culture of compliance while improving national security and public safety. It is said that the these I-9 fines have been put in place as an effort to motivate employers to conform to its employers verification process and protect employment opportunities for the nation’s lawful workforce.

For guidance on completing the Form I-9, please refer to the “Handbook for Employers” available on the USCIS Website.