Most Common Mistakes When Completing Your I-9
In the current landscape with increased turnover and backfilling positions, it is inevitable that employers will need to complete Form I-9. Though this two-page form seems simple to fill out, below we will navigate some of the most common mistakes and oversights on the form. Even veteran HR professionals occasionally make many of these mistakes, so don’t feel bad if you have missed some of them. This guide will help you avoid missing them in the future and prevent you from being hit with costly penalties in the event of an audit.
I-9 Common Mistakes:
- Employee Information and Attestation
- In section 1, if there is any field that does not have any information, the employee will need to write “N/A”. The most common locations for this will be in the “Middle Initial,” the “Apartment Number,” and the “Other Last Names Used” fields.
- If an employee has multiple last names or a hyphenated last name, all those names should be listed in the “Last Name” field.
- In the “Other Last Names Used” section, make sure that the employee is only listing real last names that have been on official documents and not nicknames or shortened names they have gone by.
- The date of birth should be entered as a 2-digit month, 2-digit day, and 4-digit year.
2. Citizenship status
- Only one box should be checked in this section.
- If box 3 or 4 is checked, the appropriate documentation numbers need to be recorded and presented, as well as an expiration date if applicable.
3. Employee Signature – This one seems simple, but it is a common step that is frequently missed. Always review and make sure that the employee has signed and dated Section 1. The date needs to be no later than the employee’s first day of employment.
4. Preparer/Translator Box – This box is commonly missed as it is a shaded box, which boxes are generally expected to be “for official use only”. In this section, the employee needs to indicate whether they had someone help translate or prepare the I-9 for them. If they did have a preparer or translator, then that person also needs to fill out the following section. If not, they need to check the box marked “I did not use a Preparer or Translator.” and leave the rest of the fields in this section blank.
- Employee information at the top of page 2 – This is a frequently missed step as it can be easy to forget to transfer the basic info from page 1 to page 2.
2. Citizen/Immigration Status – This last box of the Employee Information line must have the number code from page 1 Citizenship Status entered, NOT the full word (e.g., “1” for citizen, or “2” for noncitizen national, etc.)
3. Documentation not listed correctly – Make sure that documents are listed in the correct sections and with the correct information, and correct abbreviations. (Acceptable abbreviations can be found in the USCIS guide).
- List A documents (passport, permanent resident card, foreign passport with I-551 stamp, etc.) in the List A section, List B and C documents (B: Driver’s License, Federal ID, School ID with Photo, etc.; C: Social Security Card, Birth Certificate, Resident ID Card, etc.) in the corresponding B and C section.
- If using B and C documents, the employee must present one from EACH section, not two B documents or two C documents.
- Pay attention to the Issuing Authorities. The most common mistake is on Social Security Cards, which can be issued by one of two issuing authorities – the Department of Health and Human Services OR the Social Security Administration. Be sure to list the correct one printed on the document.
- The Issuing Authority for a US Passport is the US Department of State, which is commonly missed as well.
4. Make sure that Section 2 of the form is signed and completed within three (3) days of the employee’s date of hire.
Using the Wrong Form:
Every so often, the USCIS updates the I-9. When this occurs, new forms should be used. There is a grace period for older forms, but it is best practice to regularly check to make sure that the form that you are using is the most current and up-to-date form. You can do this by visiting https://www.uscis.gov/i-9 and downloading the form directly from their website.
Using Different Color Pens
When filling out the I-9, it is advised to use the same pen to complete the entire document wherever possible. Black ink is the preferred color of ink for the document; when this is not available, blue is acceptable. Never use red, green, purple, or other colors. Also, never use a pencil or erasable pen.
Mistakes and Correction
It is easy to make a mistake on legal forms. If a mistake is ever made on the form, the proper procedure is to make a single line through it and then initial and date the correction. Do not scribble or blackout the mistake or use any sort of correction fluid or tape. If you feel like too many mistakes are made, it is better to fill out a new form. Corrections to Section 1 can only be made by the employee, who must initial and date the correction.
With more employees working remotely than ever before, finding ways to fill out the I-9 has become challenging, especially with the fact that the identification documents must be physically examined and verified for authentication.
Temporary provisions have been made to allow the employer to complete this verification remotely, but only when that employee will be working remotely. Employers may first inspect Section 2 documents via video, fax, email, or other appropriate means. Once normal operations resume, employers must inspect documents in person and note “COVID-19” as the reason for the delay in the section’s “additional information” field, as well as “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to that field or Section 3 as appropriate.
You may instead designate an authorized representative to act on your behalf to complete Section 2. An authorized representative can be any person you designate to complete and sign Form I-9 on your behalf.Where possible, this representative would be another member of the company. When this was not possible, this could be extended to anyone other than the employee. The following is directly from the I-9 instructions: You are liable for any violations in connection with the form or the verification process, including any violations of the employer sanctions laws committed by the person designated to act on your behalf. As noted, you will be held liable for any mistakes made, that includes if any of the documents are falsified.
When filling out I-9s it is good practice to review Section 1 with the new employee and check for accuracy once they have finished making sure that they have completed it correctly. It is also important that all employees who oversee completing the form with new employees are properly trained and very familiar with the form instructions.
Once your onboarding team has been properly trained and knows what mistakes to look for and avoid, take some time to conduct internal audits. By conducting an internal audit, you will be able to catch and correct any potentially costly mistakes. This will also allow you to track items that need regular updating, such as expired documentation from permanent residents or those with work visas or identify those documents that will need renewal soon. When these are identified, they can be flagged, and action can be taken before issues arise.
If you require assistance in filling out I-9s or if you need an I-9 audit, HR Service, Inc. can provide service and resources to help walk you through this process and show you how to complete each step correctly and conduct a thorough review of existing documents.