This post was contributed by Jennifer LaPorta Baker, Esq., an attorney in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Labor and Employment Law Practice Group and based in the Scranton, Pennsylvania office.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently released the revised Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9, which employers are required to use to verify the identity and employment authorization of newly hired employees. Starting May 7, 2013, employers must use the new Form I-9 (with a revision date of 03/08/13) to comply with their employment eligibility verification responsibilities. The new Form I-9 was first published by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on March 8, 2013, and had been authorized for use, along with the previous Form. Now, use of the new Form I-9 will be mandatory.

An electronic version of the new Form I-9 is available on the USCIS website. USCIS has also released an updated Handbook for Employers (M-274) available here (pdf). A Spanish version of the new form is also available on the USCIS website for use in Puerto Rico only. Spanish-speaking employers and employees in the 50 states, Washington, DC, and other U.S. territories may use the Spanish version for reference, but must complete the English version of the form.

Employers using an electronic version of the Form I-9 should receive an updated product from their software providers. Those employers must transition electronically to the new Form I-9, or otherwise take steps to implement a compliant system for completing the new Form I-9, by May 7.

Employers who fail to use the new Form I-9 on and after May 7 may be subject to penalties issued by ICE and/or the Department of Justice.

Employers should conduct internal audits of immigration policies and protocols as necessary to assess and maintain legal compliance and reduce the significant risks and liabilities associated with non-compliance. Failure to maintain compliance may result in hefty fines and stiff penalties. Common employer violations include failure to obtain the correct employee documentation as required by federal law, as well as improperly completed I-9s. Remember, there is no “good faith” defense for I-9 paperwork violations. The best defense is to conduct annual self-audits and correct defective I-9 Forms before an aggressive government agency is at your door.