Last November, the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) changed the Form I-9.  The new form, dated 11/14/2016, went into effect January 22, 2017, and the changes were designed to reduce errors and enhance online form completion.

The changes include:

  • Section 1, which asks for “other last names used” rather than “other names used.”
  • Streamlining of certification for certain foreign nationals.
  • The addition of prompts to ensure information is entered correctly.
  • The ability to enter multiple preparers and translators.
  • A dedicated area for including additional information, rather than having to add it in the margins.
  • A supplemental page for the preparer/translator.
  • The instructions have been separated from the form, bringing the I-9 form in line with other USCIS forms.
  • Online enhancements include drop-down lists and calendars for dates and on-screen instructions.

What has not changed, however, are the penalties for Form I-9 violations.  Each incorrectly completed Form I-9 can carry a maximum penalty of $3,563 for the first offense, and up to $8,908 for third or subsequent offenses.

In 2015, Hartmann Studios, a California-based event planning company, was fined $605,250 for more than 800 Form I-9 violations.   And Hartmann Studios was lucky – there were an additional 399 union members that used the incorrect version.  Since the union was using the incorrect form, Hartmann was not fined; however, if they had been subjected to fines, the total could have been well over $1 million.

Companies need to self-audit, and review government document changes on a regular basis, in order to avoid unnecessary fines.  While Hartmann was able to withstand the penalties, not all companies can do so.

The Hartmann case also demonstrates that they would have greatly benefited from self-auditing their own paperwork, as well as work with their unions to ensure that the correct forms were being used.

According to the USCIS website, many of the most common errors are often simply the result of clerical oversight.  Employers may forget to check a box, miss a signature, or a date.  For their part, employees often forget to sign the document, or enter in their List A / B / C document numbers.

All of these errors can be avoided with basic training in addition to meticulous review.  Is it worth devoting a minute or two of your time to additional vetting?

If you have any doubts, you may wish to ask Hartmann Studios.