Immigration document surprises contractors

By Robert Mader, CONTRACTOR Staff WASHINGTON Contractors must maintain I-9 employment eligibility forms and supporting documents for all employees, human resources consultant Stephanie A. Peters told contractors here. A handful of surprised contractors had not heard of the form, created during the last immigration reform drive in the mid-1980s during the Reagan era. "Are they [prospective employees]

By Robert Mader,
CONTRACTOR Staff

WASHINGTON – Contractors must maintain I-9 employment eligibility forms and supporting documents for all employees, human resources consultant Stephanie A. Peters told contractors here. A handful of surprised contractors had not heard of the form, created during the last immigration reform drive in the mid-1980s during the Reagan era.

"Are they [prospective employees] who they say they are and are they eligible to work," Peters rhetorically asked members of Quality Service Contractors, an enhanced ser vice group of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association.

Peters urged the contractors to audit their existing I-9 documents to make sure they have them on all employees and that they have copies of identification attached to all of them.

Peters is a regional vice president for human resources consulting firm, SESCO Management Consultants, Bristol,Tenn.

Some contractors expressed surprise that they had to have an I-9 form for all employees – including those named Smith or Jones – and not just the employees with foreign-sounding names.

Peters suggested that contractors keep the I-9 forms in a separate folder or le drawer.

There are approximately 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., Peters said, although the number might be as high as 25 million. Between 700,000 and 1.5 million enter the U.S. each year. Two hundred thousand leave the U.S. and 600,000 attain legal status each year.

Fifty-seven percent of illegals are Mexicans, Peters noted, and 27% come from other Latin American countries. Nine percent are Asian.

Sixty-seven percent have less than a high school education, while 3% have college degrees. Nine out of 10 work in manual labor.

In SESCO's human resources consulting practice, the firm sees many employers' I-9 files with errors, omissions and inconsistencies from one form to another.

Contractors must keep a completely filled out form and photocopies of documents that establish identity and eligibility to work. The last page of the I-9 form has a long list of acceptable documents. It's illegal for contractors to insist an seeing a driver's license and Social Security card, and it is probably unwise even to mention them.

The list of acceptable documents includes U.S. passports, unexpired temporary resident cards, voter registration cards, birth certificates and Native American tribal documents. Employers have to see a maximum of two of these documents, one that establishes identity and the other that establishes eligibility to work. Some documents do double duty — a U.S. passport establishes both identity and eligibility to work.

The form contains three sections. A new hire fills out Section 1 on his first day of work. It's basic name, address, phone number information. The new hire then has three days to come up with documentation for Section 2, the part that proves identity and eligibility. A contractor can't discriminate against a prospective employee based on national origin, so he must make a job offer to the best-qualified candidate, then wait until after the employee starts work to prove he's legal.

A contractor has to look at the actual document – he has to, for example, hold the temporary resident card in his hand — he can't look at a photocopy of the document. The contractor's only obligation is to look at the documents and see if they look genuine to him.

Section 3 of the I-9 form is recertification in case an employee's status changes for any reason, such as a name change, or if a document, such as an Employment Authorization Card, will expire. Peters suggested that contractors keep a spreadsheet noting when documents expire and recheck it every six months.