How To Know When You Need To Do An Internal I-9 Audit

Estimated Read Time: 7 Minutes


  • It is recommended that every organization should be conducting a routine internal I-9 audit
  • The regularity of your internal I-9 audits really depends on your exposure.
  • It’s recommended to conduct one annually.


Dealing with I-9 Forms can be tough. It’s definitely not the easiest part of your day, and it requires a lot of attention to detail. No one even wants to talk about the possibility of being audited for your I-9 forms. But what if I told you how you could eliminate that headache and prepare yourself for success? How is that possible, you ask? Well, it’s not magic, but It all starts with preparing yourself by conducting internal I-9 audits. But should you be doing this all the time? Every once in a while? Who actually knows how often you should be conducting an internal I-9 audit? What you find out may shock you, but don’t fret! Because by the end of this blog, if you ever hear ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) knocking on your door, you’ll be ready!

The Differences Between An Internal and External I-9 Audit

Before we get into the nitty gritty of things we first need to explain the differences between an internal I-9 audit and an external I-9 audit. So lets first start with what an external I-9 audit is.

External I-9

An external I-9 audit is when things start to get serious. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiates the Form I-9 inspection process with the Notice of Inspection (NOI). An NOI requires employers to submit original Forms I-9, together with other business documents and information, to ICE. After receiving an NOI, ICE allows three business days for you to present your organization’s I-9 forms. ICE will also request additional information, such as payroll, a list of current employees, or a current business license. But more bad news…the odds of being audited are higher now than ever. But we’ll get more into that later.


Internal I-9

An internal I-9 audit’s purpose is to help you review, evaluate, and improve your organization’s hiring procedures. When conducting an internal I-9 audit it’s important that you outline a procedure. This ensures that your internal I-9 audit is a consistent process that is conducted in a manner that is fair and not discriminatory. It’s an opportunity for you to make sure that all of your I-9 forms are completed and stored in a compliant way and acts as your front line of defense against a potential NOI from ICE.

How To Know When You Need To Do An Internal I-9 Audit

So now to the main question at hand…”How do you know when you need to conduct an internal I-9 audit?” Well the answer is simple. Ask yourself this “Are you doing routine internal I-9 audits?” If you answered “No” then there’s your answer.

It is recommended that every organization should be conducting a routine internal I-9 audit to ensure that you’re always ready and prepared should you ever hear ICE knocking on your door. But with one answer comes even more questions. “Routinely? What does that mean? Once a month? Once every other month? How often should I be conducting my company’s internal I-9 audit?”

How Often Should You Be Doing An Internal I-9 Audit?

The regularity of your internal I-9 audits really depends on your exposure. It all comes down to risk mitigation. If you expect to be getting a lot of visits from ICE then maybe you’d want to do them more often than a company that has never had a visit from ICE. But it’s recommended to conduct one annually. Maybe that means every January or maybe every December. When to do it is up to you, but conducting the internal I-9 audit yearly is recommended.

But why is that? Why is it preferred to annually conduct internal I-9 audits? To put it simply, it’s going to make your administration a lot more neat and easy to manage. Conducting an internal I-9 audit in January or December makes the process easy for administration because you can take that time and review everyone you hired in that year, or if you’re doing it in January, everyone you hired in that previous year. To achieve a happy medium, conducting your internal I-9 yearly on a routine basis is recommended.

Why Should You Even Care?

When it comes to these I-9 internal audits, why should you even care? Why have this on your radar? Well that’s because you can expect a lot more random visits from ICE. Earlier this year on January 10, 2018, reports of raids by ICE confirmed what was expected…worksite enforcement has been increased and employers need to be ready.

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A common question we see all the time is “How likely am I to actually be hit with an ICE audit?” What’s the answer you’d get just 2 years ago? “Probably not going to happen”. But the answer you’d receive today, however, would say otherwise. The continued reports of high-profile ICE raids are definitely intentional. ICE wants companies to know that they’ve increased enforcement and they want companies to take this very seriously.

The current administration also appears to be building upon successful tactics that were used during the Bush and Obama eras by focusing on administrative arrests of employees and requests for Forms I-9 through a Notice of Inspection to employers. ICE conducted over 1,000 audits of I-9 forms in 2016 and that number is only expected to increase under the new enforcement focus.

What Are The Steps To An Internal I-9 Audit?

When conducting your internal I-9 form audit, start off by outlining your procedure and how you plan to conduct the audit. Your internal audit should concentrate on key problems that frequently arise during the completion of the I-9 form. Below are the 6 steps to take to complete your internal I-9 audit. For more information on completing your internal I-9 audit check out my previous blog How To Conduct An Internal I-9 Audit.

  1. Step One: Outline Your Procedure
  2. Step Two: Auditing Section One of the I-9 Form
  3. Step Three: Auditing Section Two of the I-9 Form
  4. Step Four: Auditing Section Three of the I-9 Form
  5. Step Five: Addressing Form I-9 with Errors
  6. Step Six: Administrative Wrap Up

Electronic I-9 Form Audits

For those who wish to move away from a paper Form I-9 system, US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) does allow electronic options for both form completion and storage. Employers are able to digitally recreate the Form I-9 with fillable fields as well as an electronic signature, provided that the document is visually similar and contains all the same data elements and language of the paper versions.

Several companies have created electronic I-9 forms that give employers the option to create and store digital Forms I-9. The benefit of these systems is that thins like document expirations and removal dates are automated, making it easier to keep track of. Most systems include built in error checking algorithms to help mitigate the risks of fines. Many systems are even integrated with E-Verify for instant form submission. But the questions still remains…

“Is it worth it to move to an electronic I-9 form?”

That answer is up to you. Electronic I-9 forms can help you save time, storage, and legal exposure, but they aren’t free. It’s up to you to ensure that you are getting the best return on investment. The amount of time you can save using an electronic process has the potential to save enough on labor to at least offset the cost. With risk management in mind, the cost of a self-auditing electronic I-9 software is also much less expensive than ICE audit fines.

Closing Thoughts

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