How to Verify Employment Eligibility - Form I-9 and E-Verify

All businesses with employees must verify the identity and employment eligibility of all employees before the hiring process is complete.  

Employment verification is administered by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS), part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Form I-9 is used to provide documentation that a newly hired employee is authorized to work in the U.S. This documentation should be completed at hire so that it is available for any US Customs and Immigration (USCIS) official to see.

All new hires must fill out Form I-9 and provide appropriate documentation of (1) identity and (2) employment eligibility.

The E-Verify system is a way for larger employers to verify employment eligibility, but any employer may use this system. 

Learn more about how to complete Form I-9 and use the E-Verify system, the penalties for non-compliance, and the issue of discrimination.

Why Must I Verify Employment Eligibility? (What's the Law?)

Although there have been several immigration laws affecting employment in the last 60 years or so, the major law describing the responsibilities of employers was the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. The major provisions of this law:

  • Require employers to document the work eligibility status of all employees
  • Make it illegal to knowingly hire illegal workers, and
  • Prohibit discrimination against any individual who is legally able to work in the U.S. (except for illegal aliens) in the matter of hiring and recruitment.

What is an I-9 Form?

Form I-9 is used to document the work eligibility of new hires. The newest version of Form I-9 (PDF), with expiration date 8/31/2019. If a new form isn't available after that date, you may be able to continue using the form. 

Section 1 of the form is for employee information and attestation. The employee attests status:

  • Citizen of the U.S.,
  • Noncitizen national of the U.S.,
  • Lawful permanent resident, or
  • Alien authorized to work until a specific date. 

Section 2 is the review by the employer or authorized representative. This section lists information about identity and authorization documents. 

When the I-9 Form Must be Completed

 An I-9 form must be completed between the time when the employee has accepted the position and the start date. You can't ask an employee to complete Section 1 before they have accepted a job offer. Specifically, you must examine the documents in Section 2 within three business days of the employee's first day of employment. If you hire someone for less than three days, Section 2 must be completed no later than the first day of employment. 

You should check Section 1 for accuracy and completeness before verifying documents in Section 2. 

How to Complete Form I-9 to Verify New Employees

To complete Form I-9 with an employee: 

Start by making sure you have the most recent form. 

Then, ask the employee to complete the top part, to explain their legal status and describe the documents they will be giving you for verification.

As you review the documents, you will need to provide information on them for the last part of the form.  

This article gives more details on how to complete Form I-9

What Documents are Acceptable for Employment Verification?

Your task as the representative of the employer is to review documents given to you by the employee. You must verify both the person's identity and their authorization to work in the U.S. The documents are separated into three lists: 

Documents in Column A are for identity and employment authorization. These may be used for both purposes without the need for additional documents. 

If the employee has no documents in Column A,   a document in Column B can be used, with a document in Column C must also be used. If a document in Column C is used, an additional document in Column B must also be used.

Here's a detailed list of the documents and lists.

Be sure to check expiration dates on documents. Expired documents can't be used for verification.

What If There is a Problem?

Everything doesn't always go smoothly with employee verification.  Here are some issues you may have and how to handle them: 

If a document has expired, the employee may be able to give you a receipt. See the instructions for the I-9 for more information on what receipts are acceptable. 

When you review the documents and sign in Section 2, you are stating that you have physically examined the documents presented by the employee, that they appear to be genuine and to relate to the employee named. You are attesting under penalty of perjury, so don't sign if you can't be reasonably sure of what you are signing. 

If you aren't sure about documents, you may want to use the E-Verify system, the Department of Homeland Security's online verification system. 

Commonly Asked Questions About Form I-9 and Employent Eligibility Verification

Here are a few commonly asked questions about Form I-9 and employment eligibility verification. 

Where do I send Form I-9? You don't need to send this form to anyone. Keep it with your other records on this employee in case of an audit by ICE.  

Where do I get Form I-9? You can get this form online on the UCIS website. You can also get the instructions here. Instructions and the I-9 form are also available in Spanish. 

What is the E-Verify System?

E-Verify is a web-based system created and maintained by the Department of Homeland Security that allows employers to verify employee work eligibility. The system works by matching information given by employees on the I-9 form with government records. 

E-Verify is voluntary for most employers, but government contractors may be required to participate in the program. It's used by large employers to save time and get a confirmation of employment eligibility, but it can be used by all employers. 

The E-Verify process begins with the I-9 form, which provides information on the employee's status and the documents presented. 

You will need to enroll in the system to begin using it. 

The I-9 Form contains this anti-discrimination notice:

It is illegal to discriminate against work-authorized individuals. Employers CANNOT specify which document(s) they will accept from an employee. The refusal to hire an individual because the documents have a future expiration date may also constitute illegal discrimination.

For more details and more questions, see this Department of Homeland Security (DHS) publication Handbook for Employers (