Audits Performed by ICE: Is Your Company Compliant?

In February, 2011, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it was going to audit 1,000 businesses in an intensifying effort to battle illegal immigration. To date, ICE has actually issued audit notices to more than 1,000 companies per quarter this year, and has advised that audits will continue to increase as more resources become available.

The number of I-9 audits per year has been increasing for several years now. In 2010, audits resulted in the criminal arrest of 196 employers, and 119 convictions. The audits by ICE do not target any specific industry, and audits are performed on businesses of all sizes, from small start-up companies to large nationwide enterprises. Auditors examine all hiring records to uncover illegal or undocumented workers.

2011 has brought forth several million dollars in fines issued to employers by ICE. Many fines issued to non-complying companies included companies that were not guilty of employing undocumented workers, but companies that simply failed to document their workforce properly.

As an employer, there is nothing you can do to prevent an audit, but there are several steps you can take to make sure your company is compliant and prepared in the event of an I-9 audit. If your company works with a professional employer organization (PEO), you are still responsible for compliance with Form I-9 requirements, but your administration is probably a bit more streamlined and less stressful, especially if employee records are managed by your employee leasing partner.

Co-employment arrangements can take on many forms and can sometimes be confusing. If the arrangement into which you have entered is one where an employer-employee relationship also exists between the PEO and the employee, the PEO would be considered an employer for Form I-9 purposes. The PEO may rely upon your previously completed Form I-9 at the time of initial hire for each employee continuing employment as a co-employee of you and the PEO. The PEO may also choose to complete new Forms I-9 at the time of co-employment.

If more co-employees are hired, only one Form I-9 must be completed by either the PEO or your company. However, as mentioned before, both you and your PEO are responsible for complying with Form I-9 requirements.

Here are 7 steps any employer or human resources professional in charge of immigration compliance should consider:

  1. Develop an immigration compliance policy
  2. Establish a written policy for employment verification
  3. Provide a training procedure for employment verification
  4. Ensure that new hires are who they say they are – run background checks
  5. Consider using E-Verify
  6. If you are a government contractor, ensure that any contractors, subcontractors and vendors are in compliance
  7. Conduct your own additional audits of I-9 documents


Many Professional Employer Organizations can help your company with all of the above items. PEOs can also assist by recruiting and interviewing potential candidates for your company. They can assist with the employment verification and I-9 forms for new hires in addition to other human resources administration activities. If your PEO is not currently assisting your company with this, or you do not currently work with a PEO and have questions about your company’s immigration compliance, contact us today.

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