The feds haven’t finished the first massive I-9 audit, and they’ve already announced a new round — this time targeting 1,000 employers.
Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent notices of inspection (NOIs) to 1,000 businesses, alerting them that feds want to look at their I-9 records.
The agency described the audits as part of its strategy to crack down on employers’ hiring and recordkeeping practices. The increased enforcement started in July with 650 audits. ICE announced at the time that more would be coming soon.
About half of those 650 audits have been completed, and a lot of fines have been dished out so far, with 61 employers paying a total of $2.3 million so far. ICE classified 16% of all inspected I-9s as “suspect,” and 267 employers are still scheduled for audits.
New system for fines
The agency also explained its new system for assessing fines. Penalties used to be based on five factors: business size, good faith, seriousness, employment of unauthorized aliens, and history of compliance. Instead, ICE will now consider:
- whether the employer knowingly hired illegals or committed a paperwork violation
- prior offenses
- the percentage of total reviewed I-9s that have violations, and
- other factors such as business size, good faith, seriousness, employment of unauthorized aliens, and history.
Employers can be fined up to $1,000 for the first offense, or $2,500 for a knowing violation. For detailed tables showing how ICE calculates the fines, click here.
What HR can do
The best way to avoid fines: Don’t wait for the feds to come knocking. Experts recommend companies conduct their own internal I-9 audit at least once a year.
When an audit does occur, it’s critical for all forms to be properly stored and maintained — when a company gets an NOI, HR is required to turn over all I-9s within three business days. Keep the forms together in a dedicated drawer or binder, and don’t save I-9s for longer than you have to (according to federal law, you need to keep them for three years or one year after the employee’s termination, whichever is longer).
Also keep in mind:
- Respond quickly to an NOI, even if it’s just to ask ICE for a time extension
- Notify all employees and managers who handle I-9s
- Choose one person to correspond with ICE to avoid inconsistency in the information given, and
- Secure all records — ICE may view missing forms as an attempt to destroy evidence.