Form I-9 might sound like just another piece of paperwork to fill out when you start a new job, but it plays a crucial role in the employment process in the United States. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, understanding the ins and outs of this form can save you from future headaches. This guide will break down everything you need to know about Form I-9—what it is, why it matters, how to complete it, and what common issues to watch out for.

Key Takeaways

  1. Understanding and correctly completing Form I-9 is crucial for employers and employees to ensure compliance with federal law.
  2. Form I-9 consists of three primary sections that verify an employee’s identity and work authorization, requiring careful attention to detail from both parties.
  3. Employers must store Form I-9 properly for specified durations and can use paper or electronic formats to meet regulatory requirements.
  4. Common mistakes in filling out Form I-9 include accepting incorrect documents, leaving fields incomplete, and missing deadlines.
  5. Form I-9 is distinct from other employment forms like W-2 and W-4, each serving a unique purpose in the hiring and payroll.


When you start a new job, paperwork can feel like a chore, but one form stands out for its importance—Form I-9. For both employers and employees, getting this right is crucial. Imagine the headache of potential audits or penalties simply because a single form wasn’t filled out correctly.

This article will guide you through everything you need about Form I-9. We’ll look at the form, why it matters, how to complete it accurately, and common pitfalls to avoid.

This comprehensive guide will uncover the purpose behind Form I-9, provide step-by-step instructions for completing it, and highlight common mistakes to watch out for, offering a one-stop resource for hassle-free compliance.

What is Form I-9?

Form I-9, officially known as the Employment Eligibility Verification form, is a critical piece of documentation in the U.S. employment process. Its primary function is to help employers verify their employees’ identity and employment authorization. Essentially, it’s a safeguard against unauthorized employment, ensuring that everyone working in the U.S. is legally permitted to do so.

The importance of this form can’t be overstated. It’s not just about ticking bureaucratic boxes; it’s about compliance with federal law and protecting the integrity of the U.S. workforce. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), every employer must complete a Form I-9 for each individual they hire, regardless of the individual’s nationality or citizenship status. This form must be retained and stored properly, as inspections can and do happen.

The legislative backbone of Form I-9 is the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. This act brought about major changes to immigration law, aiming to balance the influx of immigrants with the country’s economic needs and secure the labor market. Part of this effort included making the I-9 form a mandatory part of the hiring process to curb illegal employment and protect jobs for those who are lawfully in the country.

In short, Form I-9 is more than just paperwork. It’s a legal requirement embedded in the larger framework of U.S. immigration and labor laws. Understanding and properly executing it can save employers from hefty fines and legal troubles and reaffirms an employee’s right to work in the country.

How to Complete Form I-9

Completing Form I-9 can seem daunting, but it’s essentially broken down into three primary sections, each with its required steps. Let’s navigate through these sections:

Section 1: Employee Information and Attestation

Filling out Section 1 of Form I-9 is straightforward but pivotal. This section is entirely up to the employee and must be completed on or before their first day of work. Here’s a simple breakdown to guide you through it:

Personal Information: The employee must provide their full name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number. This may seem obvious, but even minor mistakes here can lead to complications. Ensure the details match other official documents to avoid discrepancies later.

Employment Authorization: Next, the employee must declare their employment eligibility. There are typically three categories to choose from:

  1. A citizen of the United States.
  2. A noncitizen national of the United States.
  3. A lawful permanent resident (which requires providing an Alien Registration Number/User Number).
  4. An alien authorized to work until a certain date (also requiring an Alien Registration Number/User Number or Form I-94 Admission Number).

It is crucial to select the correct category and provide accurate information. Double-check the details and ensure they align with relevant documentation.

Employee Signature: This might sound like a no-brainer, but signing the form is a critical step. By signing it, the employee attests, under penalty of perjury, that the information provided is truthful and accurate. Failure to sign here renders the form invalid and incomplete.

In summary, while Section 1 may initially appear uncomplicated, it forms the foundation of the Form I-9 process. Accurate and honest responses here pave the way for hassle-free verification by the employer.

Section 2: Employer or Authorized Representative Review and Verification

Once the employee has completed their part, it’s the employer’s turn. Section 2 of Form I-9 is all about the employer verifying that the new hire is actually who they say they are and that they’re authorized to work in the United States.

Document Verification

As an employer, you need to look at the documents your employee provides. These documents serve two main purposes: confirming the person’s identity and checking their eligibility to work. Employees must present these documents within three business days of starting their job. Your job is to ensure these documents appear genuine and relate directly to the person in front of you.

Lists of Acceptable Documents

The documents fall into three categories: List A, List B, and List C.

  • List A: Documents in this list serve a dual purpose—they prove identity and employment authorization. Examples include a U.S. passport or a Permanent Resident Card.
  • List B: These documents only confirm identity. Think like a driver’s license or a state ID card with a photo or identifying information.
  • List C: Documents in this list prove employment authorization. A good example is a Social Security card without employment restrictions.

The employee either provides one document from List A or a mix of one from List B and one from List C. Simple as that.

Employer Certification

After you’ve checked the documents, you move on to the certification part. Here, you’ll fill out the details of the documents reviewed—document title, issuing authority, document number, and expiration date (if any). Once that’s done, you’ll enter the employee’s start date and sign off on the form, certifying that the documents appear genuine and relate to the employee. This is a crucial step, so take your time to ensure everything is accurate. A signature seals the deal, confirming you’ve followed the rules to your ability.

In essence, this section is you, the employer, vouching that everything checks out and that you comply with the law. It’s not just a formality; it can save you from legal trouble.

Section 3: Reverification and Rehires

You might think that once the Form I-9 is filled out, you can file it away and forget about it. Not quite. For some situations, you’ll need to dig out that form and make updates in Section 3. Here’s when and why you’ll need to revisit it:

When It’s Needed

Employers must complete Section 3 of Form I-9 under the following circumstances:

  • Reverification: If an employee’s work authorization expires, you’ll need to re-verify their employment eligibility before it expires.
  • Rehires: When you rehire an employee within three years of the date that the original Form I-9 was completed, you have the option to fill out Section 3 instead of starting a new Form I-9.

Reverification is crucial to ensure that your workforce remains authorized to work in the U.S., which helps you stay compliant with immigration laws. Neglecting this can lead to serious legal repercussions and even hefty fines.

How to Complete This Section

Reverification: When the time comes for reverification, the process is pretty straightforward:

  1. New Documentation: The employee must present a document that shows continued or updated employment authorization. This could be a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD), a temporary work visa, or another acceptable form of identification from List A or List C.
  2. Record the Document: In Section 3, enter the document title, number, and expiration date (if any) in the spaces provided.

Rehires: Rehiring employees doesn’t require starting from scratch, saving you time:

  1. Reference the Original Form: Locate the original Form I-9.
  2. Update the Information:
    • Name Changes: If the employee’s name has changed, write the new name in Block A.
    • Rehire Date: Enter the rehire date in Block B.
    • Continue Work Authorization: If the work authorization is still valid (and you’ve confirmed this), indicate this in Block C or perform reverification if necessary.

Finally, the employer or authorized representative must complete the certification at the bottom of Section 3, attesting that they have examined the appropriate documents and verified the information.

Staying on top of Section 3 updates ensures your records are up-to-date and legally compliant. This foresight prevents last-minute scrambles and potential legal hiccups down the line.

Understanding I-9 Retention and Storage

Retention Period

Navigating the maze of employment paperwork doesn’t end once you’ve completed Form I-9; knowing how long to keep it is equally crucial. Employers must hang onto these forms for three years after the date of hire or one year after employment ends, whichever is later. Why the specific timeline? It’s all about compliance with federal regulations and being ready for potential audits by agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.

Storage Options

When it comes to storing Form I-9, employers have several options. You can go old school with paper copies or embrace technology with microfilm, microfiche, or electronic formats. Whichever method you choose, ensure that your storage system will keep these forms easily accessible and secure. Electronic storage, for example, should include an indexing system and backup capabilities to hedge against data loss. Remember, the goal is safeguarding employee information while meeting all regulatory requirements.

By staying on top of retention and storage rules, you’ll avoid potential penalties and keep your business in good standing.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Dealing with Form I-9 might seem straightforward, but even minor errors can lead to significant issues. Here are the most common pitfalls and how to sidestep them:

Incorrect Documentation

One of the biggest traps is accepting invalid or incorrect documents. Employers must ensure that the documents provided meet the criteria listed in the Form I-9 instructions. For instance, a common mistake is accepting a Social Security card that has a notation of “not valid for employment.” Training staff to recognize valid documents is crucial. Always cross-check with the list of acceptable documents.

Incomplete Fields

Leaving fields blank is a frequent error. Each section of Form I-9 has specific data that must be filled out. Employees often overlook their birth date, address, or forget to sign. Employers might miss out on recording the document title, issuing authority, or expiration date. Make a checklist to ensure all necessary fields are filled out completely.

Late Completion

Timing is everything when it comes to Form I-9. The employee must complete Section 1 no later than the first day of employment. Similarly, the employer has three business days from the employee’s start date to complete Section 2. Delaying these steps can result in hefty fines. Set up reminders and incorporate I-9 completion into your onboarding timeline to ensure deadlines are met.

By being aware of these common mistakes and implementing strategies to avoid them, you can navigate the Form I-9 process with confidence and compliance.

I-9 Form vs. W-2 vs. Other Forms

When it comes to employment-related paperwork, it’s easy to get lost in the alphabet soup of forms and documents. Among the most common are the I-9 Form, W-2, and a variety of other forms, each serving a distinct purpose in the employment process.


  • Form I-9: As we’ve covered, the purpose of Form I-9 is to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired to work in the U.S. It’s about ensuring everyone on your payroll is legally able to work in the country.
  • W-2: This form reports wages paid and taxes withheld to the IRS. It’s fundamentally about reporting income and ensuring tax compliance. At the end of each tax year, employers must send a W-2 form to employees and the Social Security Administration.
  • Other Forms: There are a slew of other employment-related forms, like the W-4 (Employee’s Withholding Certificate) which tells employers how much federal income tax to withhold from an employee’s paycheck, and the 1099-MISC, which reports income, other than wages, to independent contractors. Each plays its part in the employment and tax ecosystem.


  • Form I-9: It’s used at the time of hiring and is a one-time form per employment stint. The employer must have this form completed by the employee’s first day of work and ensure the employer’s section is completed within the first three business days of employment.
  • W-2: This form comes into play every year a person is employed. It’s issued annually and is crucial during tax filing season, detailing the past year’s earnings and taxes.
  • W-4 and Others: The W-4 is filled out at the time of hiring and remains in effect until the employee decides to update their withholding preferences. Forms like the 1099-MISC are used to report payments to non-employees, often filled out at the end of a fiscal year or upon the completion of contractual work.

Avoiding Confusion

Understanding when to use each form can help prevent common mistakes and ensure compliance. Remember:

  • Form I-9 is all about verifying employment eligibility at the start.
  • W-2 is about annual wage and tax reporting.
  • W-4 is about federal withholding preferences.
  • Other forms like 1099-MISC cater to specific scenarios, like contractor payments, distinct from regular employment records.

Navigating these forms shouldn’t feel like navigating a minefield. Know their purposes and when each is required to keep your paperwork—and legal standing—intact.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to complete a new I-9 for every job?

Yes, you need to complete a new Form I-9 each time you start a new job. The form is specific to each employment relationship, which means that even if you switch jobs within the same company, you might need to fill out a new I-9. Always check with your employer to make sure.

Can I use expired documents for I-9 verification?

No, you cannot use expired documents for I-9 verification. All documents presented must be unexpired when they are reviewed for establishing identity and employment authorization. If your documents expire while you’re employed, your employer may need to reverify your eligibility using updated unexpired documents.

What happens if I make a mistake on Form I-9?

If you make a mistake on Form I-9, it’s important to correct it as soon as possible. For paper forms, draw a line through the incorrect information, enter the correct information, and initial and date the correction. If you’re using an electronic version, follow the specific procedures provided by the electronic system. Remember, inaccuracies can lead to non-compliance issues.

Is an electronic signature acceptable on Form I-9?

Yes, an electronic signature is acceptable on Form I-9. However, electronic I-9 forms must meet specific criteria set by USCIS to ensure integrity, reliability, and accessibility. Make sure your electronic system complies with these requirements to avoid potential issues.


Understanding Form I-9 is more than just a box-ticking exercise—it’s a critical component of the hiring process. From verifying identity and work authorization to ensuring proper documentation, paying attention to detail can mean the difference between compliance and costly legal issues down the line.

We’ve covered the essentials: the purpose and legalities behind Form I-9, the step-by-step process to complete it, and common pitfalls to avoid. Employers should recognize the importance of timely and accurate completion, while employees should ensure their information is correct and up-to-date.

To drill down further into complex employment law matters, check out the insightful articles on the GCheck blog. Being well-informed can save you from potential headaches and contribute to a smoother, more compliant employment process.