21 Eye-Opening Facts About Immigration Law & I-9 Compliance

Mitratech Holdings, Inc
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The landscape of immigration law and employment verification is ever-changing, whether due to politics, economics, or the impacts of a global pandemic.

2020 has been a remarkable – some would say mind-boggling – year in terms of the challenges confronted by HR and legal teams when it comes to managing recruitment, onboarding, transitioning, employee health and safety, security, and more.

With that in mind, here are 21 facts about immigration law and the Form I-9 that are worth keeping in mind as organizations wrestle with the need to stay compliant with U.S. law while still obtaining the workforce they need to carry on with business.

  1. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalized 834,000 new citizens, topping an 11 year high in new oaths of citizenship. Additionally, the USCIS granted permanent residence to almost 577,000 individuals.
  2. In FY 2019, the number of pending applications for green cards reduced by 14%. Pending applications for naturalizations dropped 12%.
  1. The number of working-age immigrants in the U.S. is projected to increase to 38.5 million by 2035.
  2. USCIS received almost 2.2 million employment authorization applications in FY 2019. The USCIS also approved over 500,000 petitions for non-immigrant workers in FY 2019, including specialty occupation, temporary agricultural, and non-agricultural workers.
  3. USCIS used E-Verify to process more than 40 million cases in FY2019. E-Verify is a web-based system that allows enrolled employers to confirm employee eligibility to work in the U.S.
  4. All U.S. employers must correctly complete Form I-9 for every individual they hire for employment in the United States.
  5. Immigration Customs & Enforcement (ICE) has increased Form I-9 inspections by 375% over the past 2 years, auditing nearly 6,000 employers.
  6. Worksite investigations by ICE and Homeland Security Investigations have nearly tripled, increasing from 1,691 to 6,848 per year.
  7. Employers in violation of Form I-9 requirements faced $14 million in total fines in 2019.
  8. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) increased fines for Form I-9 in 2020:
    • The minimum fine per individual for paperwork or technical violations is now $234 and the maximum fine is now $2,332.
    • The fines for knowingly hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized workers ranges from a minimum of $583 to a maximum fine of $4,667.
    • Second and third violation civil penalty fines fall between penalties of $4,586 to $22,972 per employee.
  9. The USCIS is extremely stringent on Form I-9 audits, and features a list of common mistakes to avoid on their website. To steer clear of costly errors, be sure to write legibly, use only common abbreviations, complete all applicable sections, and ensure the date of hire on the form matches payroll records.
  10. Cumulative errors add up. Each error on a Form I-9 incurs a different fine. This makes repeating the same mistake, on multiple forms, potentially disastrous for small businesses.
  11. New employees must complete Section 1 of Form I-9 when hired. Employers must complete their part, Section 2, within three days of an employee’s start date.
  12. If an employee leaves, the employer is required to keep the employee’s I-9 for at least 3 years from the date of hire or for one year after employment ends, whichever is later.
  13. The I-9 is periodically updated. Most recently, Form I-9 was updated on April 30, 2020. Employers that fail to use the latest version of Form I-9 can incur fines or penalties.
  14. To enforce compliance, employers must keep track of over 1200 Form I-9 rules.
  15. Between 60-80% of paper Form I-9s go missing, are incomplete, or contain costly mistakes and errors.
  16. ICE can inspect Form I-9s with only three days’ notice of inspection.
  17. If employees are physically present at a work location, no exceptions are currently allowed for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9. Flexibility for in-person verification only applies to remote workers.
  18. Non-compliance with Form I-9 is costly:
    • A cleaning service that failed to sign Section 2 on their I-9s for 25 employees was fined $44,000.
    • A transportation company that failed to fill out I-9s in a timely manner for 54 employees was fined $109,000.
    • In 2017, the restaurant chain Panda Express required all of its legal permanent resident employees to renew their I-9s, without requiring their U.S. citizens to do the same. ICE deemed this discriminatory and fined the franchise $400,000.
    • The largest I-9 penalties to date were for an event planning company that failed to sign Section 2 on their I-9s for 797 employees. The total fine? $605,000.
  19. The Spanish language Form I-9 is authorized for use only in Puerto Rico. Employers in all 50 states must use an English language Form I-9, provide a translator to assist in completion, and must complete the translator’s certification.

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