Surviving an Immigration Audit

Form I-9Form I-9For much of the country, January brings with it the need to deal with icy conditions, but what happens when ICE shows up on your door step? Last fall, Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided 1,000 businesses to uncover the hiring of illegal workers, making surviving an immigration audit high on priority lists.

Like financial audits, the proof is in the paperwork. During an I-9 audit, ICE can levy fines if you’re unable to prove that your employees are eligible to work in the U.S. Eighteen months ago, a popular San Antonio-based sushi restaurant chain closed its doors temporarily due to an immigration audit ( “ICE audit closes Sushi Zushi restaurants”). According to that article, a Hearst Newspaper analysis showed that of half of the 117 fines levied by ICE, the agency did not prove that employers hired illegal immigrants but that they did not have the necessary paperwork.

Form I-9

The Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 is the means to document verification of the identity and employment eligibility of workers hired in the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security Fact Sheet: Form I-9 Inspection Overview states: “The administrative inspection process is initiated by the service of a Notice of Inspection (NOI) upon an employer compelling the production of Forms I-9. By law, employers are provided with at least three business days to produce the Forms I-9. Often, ICE will request the employer provide supporting documentation, which may include a copy of the payroll, list of current employees, Articles of Incorporation, and business licenses.”

You may dismiss the potential for an I-9 audit because you know you’ve never hired an illegal worker. That’s great, but you have to be able to prove it with I-9 documentation, or you could be cited and fined during an immigration audit. “Are you ready for a potential ICE storm?” states that fines can range from $110 to $1,110 per form depending on the violation. Moreover, it’s not only a case of missing forms. Even a minor typo like an incorrect start date on an I-9 can result in a fine.

Steps to Survive an Immigration Audit

Obviously, the I-9 is not a document to be taken lightly. Ensure that anyone in your organization who handles hiring is aware of the importance of complete and accurate I-9s for all of your employees. The industry typically experiences high turnover rates, so this can be an ongoing process. Accuracy is critical to avoiding a potential fine.

During a financial audit, great record keeping makes the process smoother and eliminates a lot of headaches. The same thing is true with an immigration audit. While it’s common practice to file employees’ I-9s in their individual personnel files, it makes more sense to file all I-9s together, so they’re readily available if you should be notified of an audit.

You can prepare right now by taking the time to verify the existence and accuracy of each of your employees’ I-9 form and then filing them together. Additionally, you can streamline the process and help ensure compliance with I-9 verification software. The software you choose should offer electronic I-9 completion and storage, completion alerts and reminders, deadline tracking, and support should you face an immigration audit.

With planning and solid record keeping, surviving an immigration audit might be far easier than surviving winter’s onslaught of snow… and ice.