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Can your employer ask about your citizenship status?

Looking for a new job can be stressful. After all, if you have to go without employment for even a couple of weeks, you may not be able to pay your bills. Still, when interviewing for a new position, you should be able to trust a potential employer to follow the law. Demanding proof of your citizenship status may be going too far. 

The Immigration and Nationality Act requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of all new hires. To do this, employers must review documentation and complete Form I-9. Some employers may also confirm work authorization through the federal government’s E-Verify program. Employers in the United States may not, however, use the employment-eligibility verification process to discriminate against applicants or existing employees

What does the I-9 require? 

Federal law requires employers to complete and retain Form I-9 for all new workers. In section one of the form, you provide general information about yourself. This includes your citizenship status. You must then provide your employer with documents that confirm both your identity and your eligibility to work in the country. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services publishes a list of acceptable documents. As long as you provide sufficient documentation, your employer may not ask you for specific or different documents. 

What is E-Verify? 

Some employers in California participate in the E-Verify program. If your new employer does, someone from the company inputs information from your I-9 into an electronic system. In most situations, the E-Verify system confirms work authorization in just a few seconds. If it does not, your employer must give you time to work with government agencies to resolve the issue. Your boss should take no adverse employment action against you while you work toward a resolution, though. 

Generally, California employers may not ask you about your citizenship status during an interview. After you receive a job offer, though, employers must work to verify your identity and work eligibility. If they do not follow state and federal law closely, they may be either intentionally or inadvertently discriminating against you.

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