What is Form I-9? Everything You Need to Know

Karen Axelton
September 15, 2023
5 min read

For new employees and their employers alike, completing Form I-9 employment eligibility verification is an important part of the onboarding process. Employees fill out Section 1 of the I-9 form, which is required by federal law for any US W-2 employee, and employers check the individual’s supporting documents and complete the form. Some employers are also required or choose to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm I-9 information.

Failing to verify an employee’s legal authorization to work in the US can mean civil and even criminal penalties, so Form I-9 is a priority to complete during the employee onboarding process. But manual, paper-based internal processes can make I-9 verification a time-consuming task. Here’s what every employer should know about Form I-9 and how the right technology can help you save time and maintain compliance.

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What is Form I-9?

Form I-9 is a document used to verify a W-2 employee’s identity and confirm their legal authorization to work in the US. Under the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, employers cannot legally hire a W-2 employee in the US without using Form I-9. Employers must also keep a copy of a completed Form I-9 on file for every US employee. Forms must be stored for three years after the hire date or one year after the employee leaves the company (whichever is later).

The I-9 form isn’t required for volunteers, contractors, and other workers who don’t complete W-2s. For more details about who needs to fill out an I-9, see “Who is required to complete Form I-9?” below.

Is an I-9 form a background check?

An I-9 form is not a background check. Many employers conduct pre-employment background screenings to verify a candidate’s prior employment, education, references, criminal history, or driving record. This is different from employment eligibility verification.

What is an I-9 form? Unlike background checks, an I-9 form is part of the employee onboarding process. After a job offer is made and a candidate has accepted the position, the employee must fill out required paperwork such as Form I-9 and Form W-2.

I-9s aren’t used for volunteers, contractors, or other non-W-2 employees. Employers may conduct background checks, however, for all types of workers during the hiring process or on a continuous basis after they are hired.

What is the purpose of Form I-9?

What is the I-9 form used for? The federal I-9 form is used to verify an employee’s identity and to document that the employee is legally authorized to work in the US. Employees complete the first section of the form and show their employer the appropriate identity and authorization documents, such as a passport. The employer reviews the documents and then completes the second section of the form.

Who is required to complete Form I-9?

I-9 employment eligibility verification is required for any full- or part-time employee who must complete a W-2 and who was hired after November 6, 1986. Volunteers, independent contractors, and others who aren’t required to complete a W-2 form don’t have to complete a Form I-9, either.

Is it mandatory to fill out Form I-9?

It is mandatory to complete an I-9 form for any worker who fills out Form W-2. Any worker who doesn’t have to complete a W-2 (such as an independent contractor or volunteer) isn’t required to complete Form I-9.

So, are I-9 forms required for all employees? Yes, if you are hiring W-2 employees, full- or part-time, in the US. If an employee is actually an independent contractor, then an I-9 is not required.

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When does I-9 happen during onboarding?

Employers order I-9 as part of the onboarding process. Employees must complete Section 1 of the I-9 and submit it (and the required identity documents) to their employer no later than their first day of work.

Employers must complete Section 2 of Form I-9 no later than the third business day after the employee begins work.

How to get a Form I-9

Employers can download a fillable Form I-9, in English and Spanish, from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. Employers may also complete and store I-9s electronically and remain compliant with I-9 regulations.

Making smart choices when deciding how to manage I-9s can streamline your onboarding process. Using a solution such as Checkr’s I-9 verifications allows your team to complete I-9s digitally using our integration with Tracker I-9, saving time and effort for your onboarding managers and new hires.

How to fill out Form I-9

To avoid potentially costly errors, employers and employees must know how to fill out I-9 forms correctly. Employees complete Section 1 on or before their first day of work. Employers review Section 1 to make sure the information is complete and entered correctly. The employer (or an authorized representative) then checks the employee’s identity and authorization documents (described below) and completes Section 2 of Form I-9 within three business days of the employee’s start date.

Here’s a breakdown of how to complete I-9 forms. Employers should always refer to the USCIS website, and consult their legal counsel, for the most up-to-date information on I-9 compliance.

Section 1

Section 1 is completed by the employee, who may enter information such as:

  • Full legal name
  • Other legal last names used, including a maiden name, if applicable
  • Current address
  • Date of birth
  • Check the appropriate box indicating citizenship or immigration status
  • If applicable, A-Number/USCIS Number, Form I-94 admission number, or foreign passport number and the date employment authorization expires

Employers may review this section to ensure that the employee:

  • Completed all required fields
  • Signed and dated the forms
  • Included their Social Security numbers (required if the employer participates in E-Verify)

Employers may also want to check to see if an employee noted that their employment authorization expires. If so, make a note to reverify at the appropriate date.

Section 2

Section 2 is completed by the employer and involves verifying the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents. Employees may present either:

  • One document from List A (showing both identity and employment authorization), or
  • One document from List B (showing identity) and one document from List C (showing employment authorization)

The employer or an authorized representative may then:

  • Physically examine each document in person to determine if it appears genuine and original. Employers participating in E-Verify may use an alternative remote procedure introduced in August 2023 to examine documents over a video call.
  • Enter the document title, issuing authority, document number (if any), and expiration date (if any) of each document presented. Check the appropriate box if you participate in E-Verify and have remotely examined your employee's documents.
  • Record any additional employer information indicated on the form.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to instruct employees how to complete I-9 forms. You can find detailed directions for both employees and employers on the USCIS website.

While some employers complete this process manually, many find that using a digital, automated I-9 tool, such as Checkr’s I-9 solution, can enhance efficiency and accuracy. Digital I-9 services can help with tasks like importing electronically stored information directly into the I-9 form, sending employees and employers reminders when next steps should be taken, and storing forms digitally.

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What documents are acceptable for Form I-9?

Employers should consult the USCIS website for the most current list of I-9 acceptable documents, and discuss any questions with their legal counsel. Documents used to complete Form I-9 may prove a person’s identity, legal authorization to work in the US, or both.

What forms of identification can be used for I-9? Form I-9 documents that prove both identity and legal status (documents from USCIS List A) may include:

  • A US passport or passport card
  • A Permanent Resident Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card
  • An Employment Authorization Document Card
  • Certain foreign passports

Presenting just one document from List A is sufficient documentation for the I-9 employment form.

Employees can also provide one document proving their identity and a second document showing their employment authorization.

Form I-9 verification documents proving identity (documents from USCIS List B) may include:

  • A driver’s license or ID card
  • A school ID card with a photograph
  • A voter registration card
  • A US military card or draft record
  • A military dependent’s ID card
  • A US Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document card
  • A Native American tribal document
  • A Canadian driver’s license

Employees under age 18 who don’t have the above documentation for I-9 may be permitted to present:

  • A school record or report card
  • A clinic, doctor, or hospital record
  • A daycare or nursery school record

What are I-9 documents that prove an individual’s employment authorization? Employees may be able to present any of the following from USCIS List C:

  • A Social Security Card
  • A US Citizen ID Card
  • An Identification Card for Use of Resident Citizen in the United States
  • An original or certified copy of a US birth certificate
  • A Consular Report of Birth Abroad
  • A Certification of Report of Birth issued by the US Department of State
  • A Certification of Birth Abroad issued by the US Department of State
  • Native American tribal documents
  • Employment authorization document issued by the Department of Homeland Security

Asking employees to submit a specific document—for example, requiring a passport—could be construed as discriminatory. Instead, employers should share the list of acceptable documents with the employee and let them submit the documents of their choice that meet I-9 requirements.

Where to submit Form I-9

Most employers aren’t required to submit I-9s to a government entity. However, some employers may be required or choose to submit the forms to the federal E-Verify system. Employers should work with legal counsel to determine their E-verify requirements. When used, E-Verify compares the information on the employee’s I-9 form to data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to electronically confirm the employee’s information.

Do I-9 forms expire?

The I-9 form changes from time to time when it is revised or amended by the federal government. Employers must be sure to use the most current version, not an expired version.

Certain employees’ I-9 forms can also expire. If a current employee isn’t a US citizen or noncitizen national, their I-9 must be updated when their authorization to work in the US (or their documentation of that authorization) expires.

Is there a new I-9 form for 2023?

On August 1, 2023, a new version of Form I-9 was issued; it’s designed to be shorter, clearer, and easier to use. Employers can switch to the new form immediately or can continue using the previous Form I-9 (dated 10/19/2019 in the lower left corner) through October 31, 2023. Starting November 1, 2023, however, all employers must use the latest Form I-9 version. Always check the government’s I-9 website to ensure you’re using the correct form.

Are there new forms every year?

Federal I-9 forms are revised or amended on occasion, but there’s no regular schedule for this. The previous version of Form I-9 was released in October 2019, for example.

How often should I-9 forms be updated?

When an employee’s employment authorization (or the documents proving authorization) expire, employers need to update their I-9 form. Simply examine their new documentation and complete Form I-9’s Supplement B, Reverification and Rehires (previously known as Section 3).

US citizens and noncitizen nationals generally don’t need to have their I-9 forms updated unless:

  • The employee has a legal name change
  • The employee is rehired within three years of completing a previous Form I-9. In this case, you can complete a new Form I-9 or fill out Supplement B of the existing I-9.

Do employers need to retain Form I-9s and supporting documentation?

I-9 retention rules require employers to keep a copy of each employee’s I-9. Keep only the pages you and the employee filled out. I-9 forms can be completed digitally or on paper; you can store the forms electronically or keep paper copies. (If you scan paper copies and store them digitally, you can destroy the originals if you wish.)

When you review an employee’s supporting documentation to complete Section 2 of Form I-9, you must look at the original documents and then return them to the employee. As of August 2023, employers who use E-Verify may remotely examine copies of the documents and then conduct a video interview where the employee displays the original documents.

Employers who use E-Verify are required to keep copies of certain supporting documents. Some employers who don’t use E-Verify choose to make paper or digital copies of supporting documents. If you do so, you must store the copies with the employee’s Form I-9 or in their personnel records. 
No matter how you choose to store Form I-9 employment eligibility verification records, make sure you can easily access them. If US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests copies of your I-9 forms, you must produce them within three business days.

How long should employers retain I-9s?

I-9 retention requirements call for keeping employees’ I-9 forms on file for three years after the date of hire or one year after the employee leaves the company (whichever is later). For example, if an employee works for you for one year, you’d need to keep their I-9 for two years after that (three years after the date of hire). If an employee works for you for ten years, you’d have to keep the form for one year after their separation date. You should talk to your legal counsel regarding any questions you have.

What are the fines for I-9 violations?

Specific I-9 fines vary depending on the employee’s date of hire and whether the employer has previously committed an I-9 offense. Failing to verify employment authorization for employees hired after November 2, 2015, can expose an employer to I-9 penalties ranging from $272 to $2,701 per employee for a first offense. An employer who demonstrates a pattern of violating I-9 requirements could also face criminal penalties.

What happens if employees don’t fill out Form I-9?

An employee who doesn’t fill out Section 1 of the I-9 form and provide required documentation within three business days of starting work can be terminated to prevent exposing their employer to civil fines. We recommend speaking with your legal counsel if you have any concerns or questions.

In addition to ensuring Form I-9 is completed on time, employers must also make sure they and their employees fill it out correctly. Employers can be fined for mistakes on the I-9, even seemingly small ones. According to the USCIS, common errors include:

  • Employees not signing and dating the form
  • Employees not checking the appropriate boxes
  • Employers not entering the date of hire
  • Employers not listing the title, number, expiration date, or issuing authority of an employee’s documents

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Employers must complete I-9 forms in a timely fashion, store them appropriately, and be ready to produce them when requested by ICE. Employee onboarding is a busy time, and manual processes can slow human resources teams down and introduce errors that could put compliance at risk.

Streamline your hiring and onboarding workflows into a single dashboard with Checkr’s I-9 verification services. Enhance efficiency and accuracy by automating I-9 tasks and notifications, and order and manage your I-9s from one convenient location. Your I-9 process doesn’t need to rely on paperwork and people power; get started with Checkr today.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your own legal counsel to understand your I-9 compliance and legal requirements and obligations. Any decision to use any Tracker or Checkr product is solely your own and at your own risk.

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About the author

Karen Axelton writes about business topics and best practices. She has written hundreds of articles on business subjects, including background screening, hiring and employment trends, human resource management, and the use of technology in the workplace. Her work includes educational articles, e-books, white papers, and case studies.

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