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As enforcement for I-9 violations continues to increase, contractors should take steps to formalize and improve their processes for completing their I-9 forms. These five practices can help firms manage the forms smoothly and efficiently, and will allow for a quicker response if faced with an audit. Contractors should:
1. Review and update current processes
Since the forms seem so simple, many contractors may not have a process in place to oversee them. However, this casual approach often leads to problems. It’s important to create well-documented, step-by-step procedures that everyone who completes the I-9 form must follow. Contractors need to work closely with HR, in-house counsel and outside attorneys to ensure that they are following all regulations and can anticipate any changes that may affect how they complete the I-9 forms.
2. Designate staff to handle I-9s
Firms should assign specific staff members to spearhead the I-9 process. They should receive training about which documents are acceptable and what conditions the federal government imposes on documents. Staff members should be trained about when and how to bring questions to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations or other federal agencies. They should also serve as the single point of contact with state and federal government officials.
3. Conduct voluntary audits
Firms should regularly audit either a sample or all of their I-9s forms. This will help identify any problems that exist and allow the firm to correct issues before the government conducts audits of its own. Regular internal audits can also help a firm’s defense in case a government investigation turns up questions.
4. Look into online services
If contractors are not currently using E-Verify, they should consider it. It is mandatory in some states and for federal contractors, and the government has been considering making it a requirement for all contractors. Firms can either enroll directly in E-Verify through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or go through a third party.
5. Improve the firm’s “IMAGE” - the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers
Contractors who do a lot of hiring or who work in sectors that tend to attract illegal workers may want to look in to the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program. Through the program, ICE and U.S. Customs and Immigration Services provide training and education on using E-Verify, identifying fake documents and managing other aspects of employee identity verification. A downside is that by enrolling in this program, a contractor gives ICE carte blanche to employment records.
Immigration reform remains a hot-button issue, and the federal government is targeting contractors who hire illegal workers. By anticipating and managing issues with I-9 forms, firms can ward off potential problems and better defend their processes.