The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) requires all US employers verify the employment eligibility of their employees by completing Form I-9 upon hiring an employee. In addition to completing the form, employers must also retain it for the length of employment, plus the later of either three years from the date of hire, or one year after the date of termination. While employers may retain I-9 forms in paper format, electronically or a combination of the two, they must adhere to specific practices to avoid violations and penalties under the law.
Storing Paper I-9 Forms
Paper I-9 forms may be kept onsite or offsite, but they must be signed and stored with the original signatures. They should also be kept in a file separate from an employee’s personnel documents to facilitate access for government audits, re-verifications and internal audits.
Employers may fill out a paper Form I-9, scan and upload the original signed form to retain it electronically; the original paper form may be destroyed after it is securely stored in an electronic format.
Employers opting to retain I-9 forms in an electronic storage system must comply with specific guidelines with respect to the type of computer program used for storing the forms and the procedures maintained for their security. Upon request, employers must demonstrate compliance with these guidelines to prove the integrity of the forms.
I-9 electronic storage systems must include —
Controls to ensure the integrity and reliability of the electronic storage system;
Controls to detect and prevent unauthorized alteration or deletion of stored I-9 forms;
An inspection and quality assurance program that regularly evaluates the electronic storage system;
An indexing system that permits the identification by an employee’s name or some other identifier and retrieval of the document for reviewing or reproducing; and
The ability to print paper copies of the stored forms.
An employer must also implement a records security program to —
Restrict access to the electronic records to authorized personnel;
Provide a backup of records to protect against information loss;
Ensure that employees are trained to minimize the risk of unauthorized or accidental alteration or deletion; and
Maintain an audit trail by creating a secure and permanent record that establishes the date accessed, who accessed it and what action was taken.
The government has been encouraging employers to store I-9s electronically, and employers can benefit from streamlining the I-9 process and minimizing paperwork with electronic storage. However, employers should remember that the government's goal in promoting electronic Form I-9s is to facilitate the enforcement of the law. However they store the forms, employers must be able to present them within three days of an inspection request.
Employers should carefully review the ICE guidelines and ensure their paper and/or electronic system meets government standards in the event of an ICE investigation.