A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Don't Overlook That I-9 Form: It Could Cost Employers Dearly!


Employers and those looking to hire must be extremely thorough when verifying employee documents and properly filling out Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9.  Civil fines ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars can be imposed on employers who fail to follow the rules by, for example, checking the wrong box in the form. Repeated violations, especially with multiple employees, can accumulate into a large sum. An employer can even go to jail for knowingly employing undocumented workers.

This year, the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) branch of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has beefed up its efforts to crack down on employers. The HSI conducted Form I-9 audits nationwide, serving 5,278 total Notices of Inspection (NOI) and making 93 arrests. Given this stricter environment, employers should ensure they are properly complying with I-9 guidelines.

Form I-9 audits begin with HSI serving an employer a NOI, informing them of the investigation and giving them 3 business days to produce company I-9 forms. Any violation in the documents or employer eligibility can result in civil fines. Simple clerical mistakes could trigger large sums of fines.

The civil fine for the first offense is $220 per single violation and increases substantially to $1,096 on the second offense. The third offense onward will fine the employer a hefty $2,191. These costs multiplied by several employees can equal tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, Hartmann Studios, an event design and production company, was fined $600,000 in 2015 for basically failing to sign Section 2 of the employee I-9 forms. 

The more serious fines HSI can impose on employers are when an employer knowingly and/or repeatedly hires ineligible employees. A first offense fines the employer $548 per violation.  The third offense and onward fines can be up to $19,242.  The employer can even be subject to criminal arrest for these serious "knowingly hire" violations. 

Further, some businesses such as restaurants provide housing or shelters to employees as an accommodation.  However, providing housing or shelter could be viewed as illegally harboring illegal immigrants if the employees have no legal immigration status.

Employers and workers should expect a continuation of this heightened enforcement. Employers especially should take care to have employment documentation in order. Sloppily filled out I-9 forms can end up costing thousands in fines.

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