Documentation Required to Work in the United States

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Under the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act, new employees must present proof that they are legally authorized to work in the United States. When you take a new job, you are required to fill out the employee’s section of USCIS Form I-9 by the end of your first day on the job. You then have three business days to present your new employer with documents proving that:

  • you are who you say you are, and
  • you are legally authorized to work in the United States.

If you use forged, counterfeit, or altered documents to prove your identification or authorization to work, you may be fined and even imprisoned.

When One Document Is Sufficient

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly the INS) periodically updates the list of documents sufficient to prove both identity and eligibility to be employed in the United States. Any one of the following documents is sufficient, on its own, to meet the requirements:

  • an unexpired United States passport
  • an unexpired foreign passport with an I-551 stamp
  • an alien registration receipt card or permanent resident card
  • an unexpired employment authorization card
  • an unexpired employment authorization document, issued by USCIS, which contains a photograph, or
  • an unexpired foreign passport with Form I-94 containing an endorsement of nonimmigrant status.

When Two Documents Are Required

An employee who does not have one of the documents listed above must produce two documents: one establishing that he or she is authorized to work in the United States and another verifying identity.

To prove employment authorization, USCIS will accept:

  • a Social Security card
  • a U.S. birth or birth abroad certificate
  • a Native American tribal document
  • a U.S. citizen ID card
  • a resident citizen ID card, or
  • unexpired employment authorization documents issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

As proof of identity, USCIS will accept:

  • a current U.S. or Canadian driver’s license that contains a photograph or description of personal characteristics
  • a federal, state, or local identification card with a photograph on it
  • a school ID card with a photograph
  • a voter’s registration card
  • a U.S. military card or draft record
  • a military dependent’s ID card
  • a U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner card, or
  • a Native American tribal document.

For workers age 16 and younger, USCIS considers a school report card, daycare or nursery school record, or a hospital record (such as a birth certificate) acceptable as proof of identity.

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CAUTION

Your employer may copy and keep the forms. Your new employer is required to note the type of documents you produce and any expiration dates on your Form I-9. Although employers are not required to photocopy such documents, they have the right to do so. If they do, the copies must be kept on file with your Form I-9.

To learn more about immigrant documentation, see Nolo's Immigrant Law section.

by: , J.D.

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