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What Is an I-9 Form? Tips for Employers About the Employment Eligibility Verification Form

The I-9 Form is a work authorization document that employers are required to file and retain when they hire a new employee, to prove they are legally entitled to work in the United States. Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, first became an employment requirement under the terms of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Both employees and employers must complete the I-9 Form under the terms of the Act. Employers in the U.S. are required to verify the work eligibility of every worker they hire for a job. Small business owners need to understand the process of filing the I-9 Form with U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services, under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to ensure all their employees are legally allowed to work in the country.

These topics explain what the I-9 Form is and how to file it with the federal government:

What Is the Purpose of an I-9 Form?

What Documentation is Required for the I-9 Form?

How to Fill Out an I-9 Form

Is an I-9 Form Required for Independent Contractors?

NOTE: FreshBooks Support team members are not certified income tax or accounting professionals and cannot provide advice in these areas, outside of supporting questions about FreshBooks. If you need income tax advice please contact an accountant in your area.

What Is the Purpose of an I-9 Form?

The purpose of an I-9 Form is to verify the employment eligibility of workers hired at US-based businesses. The I-9 Form validates an employee’s identity and confirms that the worker is legally eligible to work in the United States. Every employee must fill out an I-9 Form, whether or not they’re a U.S. citizen. Both the employer and the employee are required by law to fill out the form.

I-9 Violations

Employers who don’t complete and retain I-9 Forms can face severe punishments. Businesses that knowingly hiring and employ unauthorized workers can be fined as much as $16,000 per ineligible employee.

Technical violations aren’t punished immediately. The company is first notified of a violation and given ten business days to correct the error. Technical violations of the I-9 Form can include:

  • Failure to include the employment start date
  • Failure to date either the employee or employer section of the form
  • Failure to disclose that an employee is under 18 years old
  • Failure to include the date an employee was rehired in the section of the form related to rehiring practices

What Documentation is Required for the I-9 Form?

When employees complete the I-9 Form, they must also provide documentation that proves they’re eligible to work in the US. Acceptable documents are organized into three categories. Employees must either include one document from List A, or both one document from List B and one document from List C. The acceptable documentation includes:

List A

List A documentation establishes both an employee’s identity and employment eligibility. It includes:

  • A valid U.S. passport
  • A Permanent Resident Card
  • A Temporary Resident Card
  • An Employment Authorization Document
  • A foreign passport with a temporary I-551 stamp

List B

List B documentation establishes a person’s identity only and must be submitted in conjunction with a document from List C. List B documentation includes:

  • A state-issued driver’s license
  • A state ID card
  • A Native American tribal document
  • A school ID card with a photo
  • A voter registration card
  • A U.S. military card
  • A military dependent’s ID card

List C

List C documentation establishes employment eligibility only and must be submitted in conjunction with a document from List B. List C documentation includes:

  • A social security card
  • An original or certified copy of a birth certificate
  • A Certification of Birth Abroad
  • A Consular Report of Birth Abroad
  • A Form I-94 authorizing work with a specific employer

How to Fill Out an I-9 Form

Employers are required to fill out an I-9 form for every worker they employ. Here are the steps employers must take to properly fill out the I-9 Form:

1. Establish Employee Identity

The first step in filling out an I-9 Form is completed by the employee. The worker provides details of their identification, including their full name, date of birth, address and Social Security Number (if applicable), and a phone number and email address are optional pieces of information. The employee must then sign and date the form, attesting that they are eligible to work in the US.

2. Review the Employee’s Documents

The next part of the I-9 Form is completed by the employer. This section requires that the employer describe the documentation the employee provided to verify their employment status. Employers must complete this section within three days of the first day of employment. The employer must sign and date this section of the form and note the first day of employment.

3. Retain a Copy of the Files

Employers are legally required to retain a copy of the completed and signed I-9 forms. Be sure to file them away so they are easily accessible if you need to reference them.

4. For Rehiring, Re-verify the Employee

In the case where an employer re-hires an employee within three years of the original employment, the employer needs to fill out the section of the I-9 Form that refers to re-hiring. The employer just needs to list the name of the employee and the date they were re-hired. The employee must sign the document to verify they’re still eligible to work in the US.

Is an I-9 Form Required for Independent Contractors?

Independent contractors aren’t considered employees for I-9 purposes and as such, they don’t need to complete an I-9 Form. An independent contractor should meet the following criteria set by USCIS:

  • Complete a contract job according to their own methods
  • Offer their services to the general public
  • Provide their own supplies and tools
  • Perform work for multiple clients at a time
  • Set their own hours for completing the work
  • Determine the order in which the work is completed


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