If you haven’t been using the new form I-9 since Dec. 26 of last year, you’ve been in violation of the law. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services branch of Homeland Security announced in November that the new form was available and was to be put into use. This is the first major change to the form in 20 years.

If I’ve put you into a panic, set aside the reading of this column and go to your computer. But, please do come back as I have some more information that you will find valuable. Make sure you have Adobe Acrobat downloaded, as you will need it to see and print out the forms. Get online and go to the official Web site: www.USCIS.gov. When the site comes up, click on “Immigration Forms” at the top of the page. Some introductory information will appear below, which is a very long list of available forms. The list is alpha-numeric, so keep scrolling until you get to the first “I” form, then slow down. When you get to the I-9 form, stop. On the left side of the list, the actual names of the forms are listed. You need to click on “Employment Eligibility Verification.” If you have an older version of Adobe, it may give you a message that you need to update - I got the message, but I was still able to open the documents and print them.

Catching up with the times

As the Web site instructs, you may use photocopies of the form that you printed. You must include both sides of the form, and every employee that you hire must be given a copy of the instructions. The form itself is easier to read, and important areas have been printed in a larger font, which is very good. The other biggest change is in the list of documents that you may accept to establish that each employee you hire, citizens or non-citizens, are authorized to work in the United States.

I’m quite certain that you’re aware, but it doesn’t hurt to remind you: it is illegal to discriminate against any individual, other than an alien not authorized to work in the United States, in hiring, discharging, recruiting or referring for a fee because of that individual’s national origin or citizenship status. In other words, it is illegal to discriminate against work-eligible individuals. In addition, you cannot specify which documents you will accept. I suggest you take the time to become familiarized with the changed list. Once the form is completed, you must retain it for three years after the date of hire or for one year after the date of employment ends, whichever is later. This hasn’t changed. All of the instructions for employers and employees are included in the documents you can download and print.

The immigration issue is huge, so to be sure that I had a handle on it, I spent almost a full day at a seminar presented by the Nevada Association of Employers and the Northern Nevada Human Resources Association. We had some great presenters: Gregory White, Resident Agent in Charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for Reno; Patricia Haim, attorney at law, an immigration issues expert; Michael Rank, attorney at law with the Office of Special Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice; and Jacqueline Longnecker, president of employment verification resources. They know their stuff and conveyed it so we could understand it.

Cracking down

Enforcement is taking a more active role than they have in some time. In 2004, they arrested 86 and levied fines of $45,485. The first three quarters of 2007 saw 4,077 arrests and over $30 million in fines. Another change in the system includes arrests that can lead to felony convictions. In Arkansas, seven human resources employees were indicted; two have pleaded guilty and have prison sentences.

As in 1986 when the first I-9 appeared, human resources departments are in the forefront. The government is offering some programs that should be helpful, however. The Social Security Administration will still verify social security numbers. The Department of Homeland Security has two programs: E-Verify that will assist with social security numbers and names through their files or those of the SSA; and the DHS-IMAGE Program, a co-operative that requires more exchange of information between employers and DHS. I suggest you research them to find which one works best for you. In addition, we were given some tips that will help us to identify valid immigration cards. A good idea would be to contact your local ICE and seek that information.

I have just begun, with the help of our invaluable administrative assistant, an audit of all of our I-9s. We need to make sure we have the correct documents in the proper columns on the form. The importance of recording the hire date was stressed because the form must be completed within three days of that date. I got a strong feeling that enforcement audits were going to be on the rise in the near future.

The USCIS Web site has a wealth of information. Because we’re going to be held accountable for hiring ineligible workers, and I, for one, have no desire to spend time in prison, and I doubt that you want to either, we must do everything we can to protect our businesses. The Web site is a good place to start. At the seminar, Longnecker stated, and gave each of us a button that said, “No Excuses.” No more excuses for poor hiring practices.