I-9 Form Retention Periods

When it comes to navigating the complexities of employment law, it is crucial for businesses and business owners to stay well-informed. This includes understanding the various legal requirements placed on employers, such as the retention periods for important employment documents like the I-9 form. The I-9 form is a vital component of the hiring process, as it verifies an employee’s eligibility to legally work in the United States. In this article, we will delve into the specific retention periods for I-9 forms, providing you with the knowledge you need to ensure compliance with the law. Are you uncertain about how long you should retain these important documents? Read on to find out and gain a clearer understanding of I-9 form retention periods.

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What is an I-9 form?

An I-9 form is a document used by employers in the United States to verify the identity and employment eligibility of their employees. It is a crucial requirement under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), which aims to prevent illegal employment by ensuring that all employees are legally authorized to work in the country. The I-9 form is issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and contains sections for both the employee and employer to complete.

Importance of I-9 form retention

Retaining I-9 forms is of utmost importance for employers to comply with legal obligations and to protect themselves in case of an audit or investigation by the government. The retention of these forms serves as evidence that employers have verified their employees’ eligibility to work in the United States and have maintained proper documentation throughout their employment. Failing to retain I-9 forms can result in severe penalties and legal consequences for employers.

I-9 form requirements

Who needs to complete an I-9 form

All employers in the United States, regardless of size or industry, must complete an I-9 form for every employee hired after November 6, 1986. This includes both citizens and noncitizens who are authorized to work in the country. However, employers do not need to complete an I-9 form for independent contractors or employees hired before November 6, 1986.

When is an I-9 form completed

An employer must complete an employee’s I-9 form within three business days of the employee’s first day of work. This ensures that the verification process is conducted promptly and in accordance with the law.

Acceptable documents for I-9 verification

Employees are required to present certain documents to establish their identity and employment authorization. The USCIS provides a list of acceptable documents, which includes a combination of documents such as a U.S. Passport, Permanent Resident Card, Social Security card, and driver’s license. Employers must carefully review and verify these documents against the information provided on the I-9 form.

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What is the retention period for I-9 forms?

The retention period for I-9 forms refers to the length of time employers are required to retain these forms for each employee. The retention period starts from the date of hire or three years from the date of employment, whichever is later. It is essential for employers to be aware of these requirements and maintain proper records to stay in compliance with the law.

Retention periods for current employees

How long should I-9 forms be retained for current employees

For current employees, employers are required to retain their I-9 forms for as long as they remain employed. This means that employers must keep the forms for the duration of the employment relationship and dispose of them only when the employee is no longer working for the company.

What should be done with the I-9 forms after the retention period

Once the retention period for current employees’ I-9 forms expires, employers have the option to dispose of these forms. However, it is advisable to shred or otherwise securely destroy the forms to maintain the confidentiality of the employees’ information.

Retention periods for terminated employees

How long should I-9 forms be retained for terminated employees

For terminated employees, employers are required to retain their I-9 forms for three years from the date of hire or one year from the date of termination, whichever is later. This retention period allows for adequate recordkeeping and ensures compliance with legal requirements.

Are there any exceptions for retaining terminated employees’ I-9 forms

In general, there are no exceptions for retaining I-9 forms of terminated employees. However, it is important to note that in case of ongoing government investigations, such as audits or inspections, employers may be required to retain these forms beyond the standard retention period. It is crucial to consult with legal counsel to ensure compliance with any specific requirements or requests from government agencies.

Penalties for improper I-9 form retention

Employers who fail to properly retain I-9 forms or dispose of them before the retention period may face severe penalties and legal consequences. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for enforcing these requirements and has the authority to conduct audits and inspections to ensure compliance. Penalties for non-compliance can range from monetary fines to criminal charges, depending on the severity of the violation.

Best practices for I-9 form retention

To ensure compliance with I-9 form retention requirements, employers should consider implementing the following best practices:

Implementing a consistent retention policy

Establish a clear and consistent policy for retaining I-9 forms to ensure uniformity across the organization. This policy should outline the retention periods for current and terminated employees and provide guidelines for the proper disposal of these forms when the retention period expires.

Maintaining a secure storage system

Store I-9 forms in a secure and confidential manner to protect employees’ personal information. Employers should consider using a secure electronic system or locked filing cabinets to store these forms. Restrict access to these files to only authorized personnel to minimize the risk of unauthorized disclosure.

Regularly auditing I-9 forms

Conduct periodic internal audits to ensure I-9 forms are properly completed and retained. These audits can help identify any errors or omissions in the forms and allow employers to rectify any issues before potential government audits or inspections. It is advisable to seek legal counsel to perform these audits for an unbiased and thorough review.

Frequently asked questions about I-9 form retention periods

What happens if I don’t retain I-9 forms for the required period?

Failing to retain I-9 forms for the required period can result in significant penalties and legal consequences for employers. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has the authority to conduct audits and inspections to ensure compliance with I-9 form retention requirements. Employers found in violation may face monetary fines, criminal charges, and potential damage to their reputation.

Can I keep I-9 forms electronically?

Yes, employers have the option to retain I-9 forms electronically as long as certain requirements are met. The electronic storage system must ensure the integrity, accuracy, and reliability of the stored forms. It should also include measures to prevent unauthorized access and ensure that the forms can be retrieved and reproduced in a readable format.

What should I do if an employee’s I-9 form is lost or damaged?

If an employee’s I-9 form is lost or damaged, employers are responsible for recreating the form to the best of their abilities. This can include obtaining the employee’s information and verifying their identity and employment eligibility using acceptable documents. It is essential to document the efforts made to recreate the form and retain any supporting documentation to demonstrate compliance with the law.


Properly retaining I-9 forms is a vital aspect of compliance for employers in the United States. It not only ensures adherence to legal requirements but also protects employers from potential penalties and legal consequences. By following the outlined retention periods, implementing best practices, and regularly auditing I-9 forms, employers can maintain accurate records, safeguard employee information, and demonstrate a commitment to compliance. It is crucial for employers to seek guidance from legal professionals to navigate the complexities of I-9 form retention and ensure compliance with the law.

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