As part of its efforts to be more transparent and engage the public, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) held a stakeholders meeting this week about making changes to the Form I-9 or the Employment Eligibility Verification form. Form I-9 is required to be used by all employers to document the work permission status of new hires. This has been the law since 1986. But, what should be a simple to use one-page form, continues to confound employers who are increasingly being warned, fined or indicted for violations in completing or using the form and/or for “knowingly” hiring or continuing to hire unauthorized workers.
I attended the teleconference and found the meeting to be very interesting for several reasons. USCIS has held a number of public engagement meetings and also posts the minutes or notes from meetings on its website. While USCIS creates the I-9 form that all employers must use to document the work permission status of new hires, including U.S. citizens, it is another agency, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), that conducts audits or raids of employers looking for evidence of satisfactory I-9 record keeping, or evidence of hiring unauthorized workers. ICE is far less transparent, given that it is an investigative agency, while USCIS is a benefits agency.
This particular public engagement meeting was very well attended by universities, employers, attorneys, and community based organizations from around the country. USCIS was most interested to learn from the audience what works and does not work for employers using the I-9 form. This form has been around since 1986 when Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). It has taken on new importance in recent years as immigration enforcement actions have increasingly focused on employers as the magnets for illegal immigration. The Obama Administration has focused more efforts on penalizing employers than on the unauthorized workers, often using them as witnesses against the employer. But the I-9 verification process continues to be confusing for many employers, particularly as the program is linked to E-Verify, the government’s online database for checking work permission status. E-Verify is not mandatory….yet …..except for federal contractors, and for use by certain employers previously audited. E-Verify is also required in those states that have passed legislation requiring E-Verify for state or local government contracting or where it is mandatory for the entire state. Nonetheless, E-Verify employers must still have their own manual or electronic I-9 verification procedures in addition to using E-Verify. (See an earlier post about a challenge to Arizona’s mandatory E-Verify law in Chamber v. Whiting, “Arizona Cases Set for Argument.”
The audience was asked to imagine what the “ideal I-9 form would look like” given that it is the law to have one and employers must use it. The audience provided many suggestions to make the form easier to understand, to accommodate a greater range of the more peculiar immigration statuses allowed in the law, and to make it easier for both employers and employees to understand their obligations and the various types of documents they are likely to see. Of course, what remains to be seen is how USCIS will use the comments to make the I-9 more user-friendly and less time consuming for employers, since the slightest inaccuracies can lead to fines.