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Employers generally have I-9 IRS forms on hand for newly hired employees. The tax form I-9 is one of the most commonly utilized tax documents in the United States, as it is a federal requirement in most cases. If you have ever been an employee, you likely filled one out on your first day. 

So, what is I-9 tax form documentation and why is it so important? Whether you are an employee or an employer, you may want to become more familiar with the I-9 process, as the government could penalize businesses and individuals who do not comply. Check out more information about the form, including when and how to complete it. 

Do You Need to Complete the Latest I9 Form?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) created tax form I-9 in 1986, the Employment Eligibility Verification, to identify employees with work authorization. The U.S. government may not allow every foreign individual to earn money from working. Foreign workers may need to apply for temporary or permanent employment approval before legally working in the United States. 

I-9 IRS forms deter the employment of undocumented workers. The form corroborates that the employee is one of the following:

  • A U.S. citizen.
  • A non-U.S. citizen national
  • A lawful permanent resident
  • An alien authorized to work in the U.S.

The federal government can fine employers who do not file tax form I-9 for each employee or those who complete the process late. Plus, you run the risk of incarceration and financial penalties if you falsify information on the document. 

The government published the latest I9 form on October 21, 2019, and it does not expire until October 31, 2022. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security may alter the form or recertify it for another period. 

Alterations to the latest I9 form reflect changes in the world, such as changes to countries’ names or provide clearer instructions. 

When to Complete Tax Form I-9

You will likely need to complete W2 and I9 forms when a company hires you as an employee. These documents help the business report your earnings to the government and determine how much of your pay to withhold for taxes. 

The federal government imposes a strict timeline to start and finish the I-9 process. A prospective employer cannot require you to fill out an I-9 until you receive an employment offer. The reason is to deter employers from discriminatory hiring practices, such as:

  • Citizenship or immigration status discrimination. 
  • National origin discrimination.
  • Unfair documentary practices.
  • Retaliation.

As a new employee, you typically must fill out your portion of the I-9 no later than your first day of employment. Then, your new employer completes their section of the form within three business days of your first day.

However, you may not need to complete tax form I-9 if you:

  • Are self-employed or an independent contractor. 
  • Work in someone’s home once in a while or without regularity. 
  • Do not work in the United States.
  • Are an unpaid volunteer.

Employers can still be liable for hiring undocumented workers, so some businesses may have you complete an I-9 form even if the government does not require it. For example, your client may ask you to complete the form as a freelancer if they plan to use your services semi-frequently. 

How to Fill Out the Tax Form I-9

If the government requires you to complete tax form I-9, you will also need to furnish identification and proof of work authorization. You can submit one document that establishes both your identity and employment authorization. Or, you can submit two documents, one for each factor. 

While employers can suggest certain documents, businesses cannot refuse valid and acceptable documents. Your employer may recommend submitting one or more of the following:

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security or permanent alien card
  • Government-issued identification, like a driver’s license
  • Native American tribal documents
  • Department of Homeland Security-issued employment authorization documents

The documents you need will depend on your citizenship or immigration status. For example, a U.S. birth certificate may be proof of your authorization to work, but a foreign birth certificate does not show your eligibility. 

Likewise, your documentation must be valid and not expired. Businesses do not usually accept expired documents, especially expired employment authorization cards. A Social Security card, for instance, may have additional notations, such as:

  • Not valid for employment.
  • Valid for work only with Immigration and Naturalization Service authorization.
  • Valid for work only with Department of Homeland Security authorization.

If your Social Security card has any of the above government authorization conditions, you will need to present the accompanying paperwork. 

How to Get the IRS I-9 Form 2021

You can download a printable I-9 tax form or complete a fillable version to print. The electronic I9 is a “fillable form,” meaning you can complete the majority of it on a computer. 

The latest I9 process is electronic, and employers can “E-verify” new employees through a government website. The system compares information on an I-9 with records from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Although the E-verify system is optional for most employers, the government may require businesses with federal contracts or subcontracts to enroll. Likewise, some companies may need to use the website based on state legislation.  

States that require certain businesses to use the E-verification system include the following:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia

You can also use the system to check your work authorization if you are an employee. You can confirm that you are eligible for employment and that the information is accurate. 

The E-verification system might incorrectly indicate that you are not eligible for work, so it can be beneficial to verify its records before applying for work. For instance, the system may not recognize your authorization after a recent name change.

Download Your I-9 Tax Form and Instructional Guide