Understanding the Big Changes Coming to I-9s & E-Verify in 2017

Understanding the Big Changes Coming to I-9s & E-Verify in 2017

The times they are a-changing and, for HR professionals, nowhere else will that be more apparent next month than in the world of immigration compliance. Three main reasons:

New ‘smart’ I-9 starts Jan. 22. By that date, every U.S. employer must be using the new “smart” version of the Employment Eligibility Verification form (the I-9) to confirm new hires’ right to work in this country. You don’t want to mess it up, because …

More enforcement. Along with his plans to “build that wall!” along the southern border, President-elect Trump wants to use employers as a “virtual wall” against undocumented workers taking American jobs. That could mean more I-9 enforcement, and …

Changes to E-Verify and foreign worker programs. Trump favors mandatory, nationwide employer use of the controversial electronic E-Verify system. Plus, he wants new limits on certain guest worker programs.

“Employers would be well advised to get their I-9 house in order now,” says John Fay, an immigration attorney and general counsel of LawLogix, and the featured immigration speaker at the 2017 LEAP conference. Here’s what to expect in 2017:

The Brand New I-9

Starting Jan. 22, you’ll need to have switched to the newest version of the I-9, that old stalwart of HR paperwork. The form, which must be completed within the first three days of each new hire, now carries an 8/31/2019 expiration date.

What’s new? In addition to changes on some fields, the new version is being called the “smart I-9” because the interactive PDF also includes enhanced features to reduce errors and complete the form more easily on computers. This includes drop-down menus for filing in fields, on-screen prompts to potential mistakes and a barcode unique to each form to identify it for audit purposes. But the changes stop short of creating a fully electronic I-9. You’ll still need to print the form, obtain handwritten signatures, store the paperwork and monitor forms for reverification.

HR as Trump’s ‘virtual wall’

When the I-9 was created in 1986, employers were essentially deputized as key players in preventing illegal immigration. Trump has repeatedly spoken about employment being the “magnet” that draws people to this country. What does this likely mean for HR?

More I-9 audits. Since 2009, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has audited more than 10,000 employers and imposed $100 million in fines related to I-9 and worksite violations—a huge jump over past administrations. During the campaign, Trump emphasized the need to beef up the number of ICE enforcement officers in charge of deportations and worksite enforcement.

Plus, the cost of I-9 mistakes has just gone up. In the fall, the government increased the individual “per I-9” fines for substantive and uncorrected technical I-9 mistakes. So employers can now be dinged $216 to $2,126 per form.

E-Verify: from voluntary to mandatory? About 650,000 employers are enrolled in E-Verify, a mostly voluntary web-based system for confirming employment eligibility. That’s still a fraction of the roughly six million employers in the United States. Some employers have been unwilling to join the controversial system, saying E-Verify is full of inaccurate data and generates too many false negative results.

Trump has proposed mandating E-Verify for all employers in order to “protect jobs for American workers.” Republicans’ past efforts in Congress to implement mandatory E-Verify have all stalled. But the Trump election may give new life to this idea. And Trump, in fact, may just use his executive powers to take a rule mandating E-Verify to certain federal contractors and expand it to all U.S. employers.

The bottom line: 2017 is not the year to leave your I-9, E-Verify and immigration compliance up to chance. The compliance sands will be shifting throughout the year and it’s vital to know what to do now … and what’s coming next.

Join me at LEAP 2017, March 29 to 31 in Las Vegas, to learn how HR must comply with all the big changes coming from Washington and the states. Plus, you’ll have a fabulous time with your peers at the legendary Bellagio!