A step-by-step guide on how to complete an I-9 form

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 requires all employers to certify that an employee is legally allowed to work in the United States. It also requires employers to provide documentation in the Employment Eligibility Verification, also known as an I-9 form. 

It’s important to know all of the ins and outs of completing and retaining this form. If any steps or documents are left out, you risk facing fines and other serious legal penalties. Let’s go over what an I-9 form is, what each of the sections mean, and how to properly fill everything out. 

What is an I-9 form? 

Any time a new employee is hired, you as the employer must verify the person is legally authorized to work in the United States by requiring the employee to complete an I-9 Form, Employment Eligibility Verification from the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services once a job offer is made. The form may not be filled out any time before employment is offered. 

Every employee must fill out this form by their first day of employment—there are no exceptions. Once you and the employee complete the form, it does not need to be filed with the government. Instead, you must retain it in your employment records. 

Note: The USCIS issued a new version of the form on January 31, 2020 with minor changes. Beginning May 1, 2020, all employers must use the new version of the form instead of the old one.

How to complete an I-9 form in 3 easy steps

There are three parts of an I-9 form. Let’s break down who is responsible for completing each step and what you need to include. 

Part I: Establishing identity (employee)

The employee is responsible for filling out the first part of the I-9 form, which requires basic information like full name, date of birth, address, and Social Security number. The employee’s email address and phone number can also be included, but they are not required. 

In this section, the employee attests that they are legally authorized to work in the United States. Those eligible to work include: 

  • Citizens
  • Non-citizen nationals of the U.S.
  • Lawful permanent residents
  • Aliens authorized to work in the U.S. 

If the employee is an alien, they must enter an alien registration number or a Form I-94 admission number. If there is an expiration date to their employment authorization, they must include that as well. 

After completing the section, the employee must sign and date the form. If the employee is a minor or disabled and needs assistance from another person to fill out the form, that person must include their name and address, and sign the form. 

Part II: Employee Documentation Review (employer)

The second part of the I-9 form is where you come in. Within three days of the first day of employment, review the documents the employee provided to verify eligibility. You are not required to create copies of the presented documents, but it’s a good idea to do so. If you do create copies, you must do so for ALL employees. 

After you’ve reviewed the necessary documents (which are explained below), complete the entire section. This includes employee information such as name and immigration status and the title, issuing authority, number, and expiration date (if applicable) of each provided document.

You must also document the employee’s first day of employment and verify that the employee included accurate information in the section they filled out. 

After filling out the section, you must attest with your signature (under penalty of perjury) that you have examined the physical documents and you believe to the best of your knowledge that the documents are real and that the employee can work in the U.S.

The portion of Part II that you fill out is determined by what type of documents the employee provides. There are three lists of allowed documents: 

List A

If an employee provides one of the following documents, they do not need to include anything else, because they establish both identity and employment authorization: 

  • U.S. passport or U.S. passport code 
  • Permanent resident card or alien registration receipt card 
  • Foreign passport with temporary I-551 stamp
  • Employment authorization document (with photograph included)
  • A Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands passport 
  • Non-immigrant aliens authorized to work may provide a foreign passport and Form I-94, along with an unexpired endorsement of non-immigration status

List B

If the employee does not have a document from List A, they must provide one document from the following, which verify the identity of the employee: 

  • State-issued driver’s license or ID card (with photo and personal information included)
  • School ID (with photo included)
  • Voter’s registration card
  • U.S. military card or draft record
  • Military dependent’s ID card
  • U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Marine card
  • Native American tribal document
  • Driver’s license issued by a Canadian government authority

Employees under the age of 18 who do not have any of the above documents may use the following: 

  • School record
  • Clinic, doctor, or hospital record
  • Day care or nursery school record 

List C

In addition to the List B document, employees without a List A document must provide one of the following:

  • Social Security card (unless the card says: not valid for employment, valid only for work with INS authorization, or valid for work only with DHS authorization)
  • Official certification of birth abroad(Form FS-545)
  • Certification of report of birth issued by the Department of State (Form DS-1350)
  • Original or certified copy of a birth certificate issued by a state, county, municipal authority, or territory of the U.S. that has an official seal
  • Native American tribal document
  • U.S. citizen ID card (Form I-197)
  • Identification Card for use of resident citizen in the United States (Form I-179)
  • Employment authorization document issued by the Department of Homeland Security

Part III: Re-hiring and re-verifying employees (employer) 

You will also complete the third part of the form. But only if you’re re-hiring someone within three years of the original I-9 date. In this case, you must re-verify the employee. If you hired the person outside of the three-year period, you must fill out a new I-9 form. 

You also use this section to re-verify work authorization for some current employees. Complete it before the work authorization doc expires. 

Note: this is only for some employees. Per USCIS, you never have to re-verify U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals. Do not re-verify the following documents after they expire: 

  • U.S. passports
  • U.S. passport cards
  • Alien Registration Receipt Cards/Permanent Resident Cards (Form I-551) 
  • List B documents

All you need to do when completing this section is list the name of the employee and date of re-hire. If the employee has a previously expired authorization of employment that is now extended, include the document title, number, and expiration date of the authorization document. 

Just like the other sections of the I-9 form, you’ll sign the section and verify that you believe that the employee has the right to work in the United States and that the documents appear to be genuine and related to the individual.

What do I do with the I-9 form once completed? 

You don’t need to turn the form into any government entity, but you do need to retain the I-9 for three years after the hire date or one year after the employment ends—whichever is later. 

It’s very important to comply with this rule. If the federal government finds that you do not have I-9s retained and completed correctly, you could face severe penalties. These penalties vary. But fines start from $548 and can reach upwards of almost $20,000.  

If you need to make changes to the form, don’t fill out a new one. Make the changes on the original form, and add your initials along with the date. 

Stay up to date on I-9 form information by keeping an eye on the USCIS I-9 Central page

If you need help with forms like these, Homebase Hiring and Onboarding. With Homebase you can get rid of the paperwork and have employees fill out the required forms online before they start on day 1. And if you need help figuring out your hiring process and more, Homebase HR and Compliance gives you live access to HR experts who can answer any questions you may have.

Remember, this is not official legal advice. If you have any questions or concerns about I-9 forms, it’s best to consult an attorney.

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