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The I-9 Guide for Employers

“Are you authorized to work in the United States?” It’s a standard question on job applications, and one that most people will tick “yes” without thinking and move on.

But employers are responsible for hiring legally eligible workers, and so the onus is on the company to verify that their staff meets the requirements. That’s where the government’s Form I-9 comes in.

Employer and employee complete Form I-9 together, and then the company keeps the form on file. Part of the I-9 process involves verifying employment eligibility by asking the employee to produce documents that establish identity as well as employment authorization. In some cases, both identity and eligibility can be verified with a single document—either a U.S. passport, permanent resident card, employment authorization card or foreign passport (accompanied by a Form I-94/94A arrival-departure record).

In other cases, an employee may have to produce multiple documents, like a driver’s license as well as a Social Security card or birth certificate. (See I-9 instructions for a complete list of acceptable documents.)

Once the employee fills out their section of the Form I-9 and presents the required documents, it’s the employer’s responsibility to physically examine each document to determine if it “reasonably appears” to be legitimate. The employer then enters the requisite information onto the form and returns the documents to the employee. The I-9 also asks for basic company information (name and address) and the employee’s start date.


  • Fill out an I-9 form for every person on their payroll.
  • Physically examine the employee’s documents to establish identity and eligibility.
  • Keep an I-9 form on file for three years after the hire date, or one year after termination—whichever is later.

Employers who want to go the extra mile can take advantage of the government’s E-Verify service, which requires an employee’s Social Security number as well as a photo ID. E-Verify utilizes the government’s I-9 records to confirm employee eligibility.

Not only must you, as the employer, have an I-9 for every one of your current employees, you also must retain the form for employees who are no longer with your company. As a standard practice, for each person on your payroll, you must keep an I-9 in your records for three years after the hire date, or one year after the employment is terminated.

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