Human Resources News & Insights

I-9 auditor says, ‘Most companies fail this test’

Using a four-step test, attorney Jim Velasco audits companies’ I-9 procedures to make sure they comply with government standards. Most companies fail the test.

When Velasco walks into a company, he asks four major questions – pretty much the same ones a government inspector will ask when investigating an I-9 violation: 

1. Do you have policies and procedures for verifying an employee’s identity, and are they in writing? Has top management signed off on them? At a minimum, the policies should adhere to the requirements outlined in Form M-274 Employer Handbook from the U.S Citizen and Immigration Services. 

2. Do you conduct awareness training for staff who deal with I-9s? And is the training documented? 

3. Do you conduct sample audits of verification documents, including the I-9 forms and supporting documents? You can do the audit with in-house staff or hire an audit professional. 

4. If you find problems with a sample audit, do you conduct a wider audit to see if the problems are widespread? 

Velasco, writing in the summer issue of “Relationships” magazine, says that besides failing the four-part test, 30% to 50% of the companies have compliance problems just with the I-9s themselves. 

A big reason to take the four steps: Besides uncovering mistakes, the procedure amounts to an excellent “good faith” defense – that you’ve given it your best shot to comply – if government investigators do uncover a violation. 

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  • I am interested to know if anyone out there has signed up for the E-Verify product. It is my understanding that in order to take advantage of that product you must submit to an audit.

  • That is also my understanding and am interested to find out if this is in fact true or if I am mistaken. Can someone please advise. Thanks.

  • Lindsay

    Our company has participated in the E-Verify system for 2 years now, and we have not been audited since we started the policy. We were audited, however, BEFORE we signed on with E-Verify and that is what influenced our decision to participate in it.

  • Sally,

    We use the Basic Pilot Program. It is wonderful, we did not have to have an audit or anything like that. It has saved us many, many headaches.

  • Mary B

    I have been using E-Verify since the beginning of January (it is mandatory for all employers in the state of Arizona). We were not required to audit our I-9’s in connection with E-Verify. I might add that I have had no problems with the program so far, and have found the responses to be very quick – almost immediate. The most difficult thing was the two hours that it took to be able to be certified to use E-Verify to begin with.

  • Twila

    I have been using the E-Verify product for almost 2 years. We did not have to go through an audit. I only had to pass their online test. It is absolutely wonderful. I work at a college so we have a lot of student worker turnover. I was using SSA and they were so difficult to work with. List had to be a certain way, only so many, and it took several days to get my answers. With E-Verify I have my answer within 2 minutes. The only real issue I have had is that I have misspelled the name a few times and the system will verify it. Like Jameas instead of James, Zueke instead of Zuelke. 99% of the time it has been great. Highly recommend.

  • Tim W.

    I have been using E-Verify since October of 2007 and there was no audit involved. As Mary stated you must go through their certification process which is easy, just long. The system has served us well with almost immediate responses. The site is actually very user friendly and provides a real peace of mind product. It is mandated in AZ but I would encourage everyone to use it.

  • Deanna

    Hi Sally, We (Yavapai College) signed up for E-Verify in December of 2007, which is mandatory for AZ businesses. The question was never asked if we had done an audit. We did an internal audit, just as a good business practice, last fiscal year. I have e-verified nearly 300 employees error free, and had only one come back as a non match but that was because the employee wrote down her spouse’s ss# instead of her own. Once we talked, and the error was discovered, we had a good laugh but she still had to go to the Social Security Office with a non match letter and it was resolved. I highly recommend the E-Verify system. It only takes a few minutes per employee and is worth the peace of mind that your company is doing all it can to stay in compliance.

  • Cristina

    How do you sing up for this service? (E-Verify)

  • Lori

    Can someone tell me where they purchased the E-Verify Software and how fast were they able to have it up and running?

  • Cristina & Lori:
    go to the USCIS Website

    Jim Giuliano
    HR Morning

  • Mary B

    Hi, Lori,
    There is no software to purchase – once you have taken the training, you can starting using it right away. You can go to this website for information about the program:

  • Hello everyone,
    I am also an HR Professional in Arizona. I have been enrolled in the E-Verify for over two years now. This was before the mandate. I like it and also highly recommend any employer to use it. As the others have stated it is user friendly and fast response time. I have had 4 that required action. One never returned and two other were because they had became US Citizens and never took their Certificates to the Social Security Office to have it updated to “US Citizen” instead of “Permanent Resident”. The other was a two day wait for conformation from DHS (it came back as “EMPLOYMENT AUTHORIZED”). I was never asked about an audit nor has any government agency approached my company to perform one. I feel that if they did I would pass. With the E-Verify all questions come from that form so the form must be filled out and signed correctly.

  • Carolene Archuleta

    E-Verify is a complete accurate accountability. Anyone not using E-Verify are taking a great risk of being Audited and investigated by State and Federal Gov.

  • Cara

    Does E-Verify replace the current I-9 requirement by the employer to examine ID? Currently this is a headache for us as we hire employees out of state and require them to have their I-9 forms notarized within 3 days before they send us back their new hire paperwork.

  • Jim Rittgers

    Question for Carolene Archuleta.

    How did you conclude that anyone not using E-Verify is “taking a great risk of being Auditied and investigated by State and Federal Govt.”?

  • Cristina

    What do you do to check current employees? How can I make sure we are in compliance? I check their ID’s but how can I make sure these are not fake?

  • Jackie T – SPHR

    Cristina, if you are reviewing the actual document and it looks good at face value, you have a “good faith defense” – meaning you can’t be an expert at all the different ID’s out there, but it if looks good enough to convince a reasonable person that it is real, you should accept it. I keep copies of each document and attach them to the I-9 so if there is any question I can prove that I reviewed and that the document(s) looked to be authentic. You are not required by law to keep copies (and if you keep them for one you just keep them for all – can’t pick and choose). This has kept me out of “hot water” on more than one occasion where there was a question about the validity of a document.

    Remember, you have to allow the employee to determine which documents they want to present (as indicated on the I-9).

  • Cristina

    Thank you Jackie T

  • Jim Rittgers, SPHR

    I believe making copies and attaching them to the I-9 is extra work, unnecessary, and risky. When I audit employers’ I-9 files I often find copies of documents that are not acceptable for I-9 purposes, e.g., certain Soc Sec cards, birth certificates that are not acceptable, etc. Why give a (government) auditor the opportunity to see that you are accepting the wrong documents? As Jackie T. stated, there is no legal requirement to make copies. As she also stated, the signature of the company rep that completes the I-9 is all that is required in order to prove the document was seen. If the document is recorded properly on the I-9 there shouldn’t be a question of its validity. Therefore, I don’t see how having a copy of a document could keep someone out of hot water when there is a questions about the validity of a document. I have never had an auditor question the validity of a document.

  • Debi

    To Jim Rittgers:

    I agree with you on NOT keeping copies. It is unnecessary and risky. Not only is it risky for the audit but should the copy get in “unattached” and in the wrong hands, you leave the employer in for the risk of liability if the personl information is used fraudulently. (It has been know to happen) The I-9 does state that the person signing is attesting that they have examined the documents presented and that htey appear to be genuine. Nothing says you must make, keep or file a copy of the documents you have examined.

    As for your question to Carolene Archuleta with regards to taking a great risk of an audit…
    I agree with her (to an extent) if she is in Arizona or another state the “requires” the employer to use E-Verify. It may only be the State not the Federal that audits. As for the E-Verify system I have had no “bad” experiences with it and have been using it since it first came out.

  • Amber

    Is there anyone who keeps the I9’s with the employee packet? We have ours in a clear sleave outside of the packet.

  • Jackie T – SPHR

    We keep ours totally seperate from the employee files, in a binder, so if we were to be audited, all forms are together in a compact form.

  • Cathi S.

    Our I-9 files span 10 years since the start of our company. However, the form was not completed (or signed) by a staff member when verified. What would you recommend is the best way to handle this? 1) Review and sign myself using the current data? 2) Start over and redo the form with new documents reviewed and sign, etc. as needed. AND keep both set sof paperwork? You never know when the auditors will want to see this.

  • Cara

    We had a similar situation here as the person in the HR role before I was here did not complete the Employer Section of the I-9 and the majority of our older I-9’s are out of compliance. Our employment attorney suggested that we complete an audit of our I-9’s and obtain any missing information from the employees and then include a memo with each I-9 to explain that you have audited the I-9’s to get them in compliance. The memo will also explain the dates being off (not within 3 days from hire). You should just update the original form rather than completing a new one for each employee. Hope this helps.

  • Cathi S.

    Thank you Cara. That is good direction.

  • Jen G.

    Do any other companies out there deal with a large amount of legal foreign workers? We have a sinigicant amount of H2B and J-1 visa holders. Does the E-Verify program seem to work well with these employees or are there more hiccups that make it not worth it?

  • Lana

    I use E-Verify – I began using it when it was still a pilot program and like it alot. To begin I verified all current employees with Social Security and then verify all new employees upon hire with the e-verify program. I did not have to submit to an audit, but covered myself none-the-less.

  • We use e-verify and it works great. As others have said, I get pretty much instant responses. They were using this program before I started with the company, so I’m not certain about the audit requirements.

    As for I9 forms and ID’s… We keep both the I9 and the ID’s in a separate place from the employee files. The I9 forms are in a binder in one cabinet, and the ID’s are in a separate binder in a different cabinet. By keeping them separate, if we did have an audit we would not be giving them that extra info, but we have the ID’s to reference if we needed for other stuff. (Since we have employees across the states, we sometimes need to send a copy of and ID for other business related stuff, so it’s helpful for us to have them on file.) If you do keep copies, I highly recommend keeping them separate from the I9 forms.

  • Lana, you said that you verified all current employees with Social Security. Have you verified any current employees through E-Verify? As a federal contractor we may soon need to E-Verify not just new hires, but also current employees (hired after 1986) who are directly involved in work related to the government contracts (if it becomes a “rule” in September). I am wondering if you – or anyone else reading this – has E-Verified current employees, and how you facilitated this process (did you contact the employees, or were you easily able to find their filed I-9s and simply do it without them even needing to know, or what?). Thanks!

  • Laura

    To shed light on Lana’s response, E-verify is NOT to be used on any current employees. It can only be used on new employees. Perhaps the requirements were different when it was a Pilot program and she began using it, but it cannot be used that way now.

  • Laura

    In re-reading Lana’s response, I see that she verified her current employees with Social Security, not E-verify. I don’t personally know what the legalities are concerning that practice.

  • Lana

    I talked with social security due to some non match letters we had received, social security said the procedure they recommended was to verify all current employees through them – for 3 or 4 you can call for more it must be submitted in writing – for data match then verify all new employees through e-verify. I have been very satisfied with the program and have used for all types of employees (legal aliens, permanent residents, and naturalized citizens) without issue for serveral years beginning when it was a pilot program called S.A.V.E.. I would recommend it for all.

  • Cynthia

    When I took over last year as HR administrator one of my first tasks was to make our HR files compliant. In the process I did an I-9 audit and obtained verification from then-current employees who had not completed I-9s for the previous administrator and had no verifications on file.

    I am now conducting another audit, just to be on the safe side, and have a question about current employees. Many of our employees have been with the company since it’s inception and have driver’s licenses on file that are now expired. Do I need to update their file with new information, or is the license presented at the time of hire still considered valid for I-9 purposes?

    Thanks for your help.

  • Debi

    The information that was presented at the time of I-9 verification is still valid. There is no need to update any I-9’s for current employees unless their citizenship has changed or their “legal right to work in the U.S.” proof provided expired. In that case you need to verify their “current” eligibility and update the I-9 with the new information that is not expired.

    I hope this helps.

  • John

    I am an HR manager and we hired a company who did a manual inspection of our I9’s. Half our I9s were not filled out correctly or missing information. Luckily, we were able to fix them just in case of an audit. If anyone is interested, the company is