IMAGE certification program

Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act requires employers to verify that all employees are authorized to work and have established their identities using the Form I-9.

The IMAGE program was created in 2006, as a joint government and private sector initiative designed to build cooperative relationships that strengthen hiring practices and encourage employer compliance. The IMAGE program is is a voluntary partnership initiative between the federal government and private sector employers, designed to strengthen overall hiring practices. The program provides for employer self-compliance within the workplace, by which employers can achieve a lawful workforce via self-policing of their hiring practices.

IMAGE is a phony document detection service developed by  ICE to offer assistance to employers seeking to avoid hiring illegal aliens. While the E-verify program verifies the status of newly hired employees, the IMAGE system examines older hiring records

Illegal aliens drawn to the United States in search of jobs. By law, U.S. companies face fines and owners face possible imprisonment if they violate laws related to employment and employment eligibility. The IMAGE program serves to foster improved relations with private sector employers, and to help employers to better understand their legal responsibilities when hiring.

While industry self-policing will allow ICE to focus on other aspects of its homeland security mission, the use of voluntary-only workplace enforcement has its obvious pitfalls.

IMAGE was designed as a partnership initiative between the government and private sector employers. To that end, ICE is committed to working with IMAGE participants in the following ways:

  • ICE will waive potential fines if substantive violations are discovered on fewer than 50 percent of the required Forms I-9.
  • In instances where more than 50 percent of the Forms I-9 contain substantive violations, ICE will mitigate fines or issue fines at the statutory minimum of $110 per violation.
  • ICE will not conduct another Form I-9 inspection of the company for a two-year period.
  • ICE will provide information and training before, during and after inspection.


What happens if an employer correctly complete an I-9 form and perform an E-Verify query and ICE subsequently determines the individual to be unauthorized to work in the U.S.?

  • E-Verify is an Web-based system that compares information from an employee's Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.


If the employee presented the employer with documents that reasonably appeared to be genuine and relate to the employee presenting them, the employer can not be charged with a verification violation. This type of circumstance underscores the importance of why ICE is advocating participation in E-Verify for all employers.

Benefits of using IMAGE

  • By following the prescribed steps of IMAGE, a company could lessen the likelihood of being found in violation of employment laws. IMAGE participation may be considered a mitigating factor in the determination of civil penalty (fine) amounts should they be levied.
  • IMAGE membership can enhance a corporate image by associating a company with sound hiring practices.
  • IMAGE helps secure the homeland by reducing opportunities to inadvertently hire unauthorized illegal alien workers.
  • Public recognition of the employer�s IMAGE certification;
  • Avoidance of lawsuits and other legal actions resulting from unauthorized employment;
  • Brand name protection;
  • Fine mitigation;
  • A stable workforce;
  • No Form I-9 inspection for a minimum of two years;
  • ICE provided training and guidance on proper hiring procedures and fraudulent document awareness

Streamlined IMAGE certification process

Under the streamlined IMAGE certification process, employers will:

  1. Enroll in the E-Verify program within 60 days;
  2. Establish a written hiring and employment eligibility verification policy that includes internal Form I-9 audits at least once per year; and
  3. Submit to a Form I-9 inspection.

In return, ICE agrees to:

  1. Waive potential fines if substantive violations are discovered on fewer than 50% of the required Forms I-9;
  2. In instances where more than 50% of the Forms I-9 contain substantive violations, mitigate fines or issue at the statutory minimum of $110 per violation;
  3. Not conduct another Form I-9 inspection of the company for a two-year period; and
  4. Provide information and training

IMAGE best employment practices

  1. Use E-Verify, the DHS employment eligibility verification program, to verify the employment eligibility of all new hires.
  2. Use the Social Security Number Verification Service (SSNVS) for wage reporting purposes. Make a good faith effort to correct and verify the names and Social Security numbers of the current workforce and work with employees to resolve any discrepancies.
  3. Establish a written hiring and employment eligibility verification policy.
  4. Establish an internal compliance and training program related to the hiring and employment verification process, including completion of Form I-9, how to detect fraudulent use of documents in the verification process, and how to use E-Verify and SSNVS.
  5. Require the Form I-9 and E-Verify process to be conducted only by individuals who have received appropriate training and include a secondary review as part of each employee�s verification to minimize the potential for a single individual to subvert the process.
  6. Arrange for annual Form I-9 audits by an external auditing firm or a trained employee not otherwise involved in the Form I-9 process.
  7. Establish a procedure to report to ICE credible information of suspected criminal misconduct in the employment eligibility verification process.
  8. Ensure that contractors and/or subcontractors establish procedures to comply with employment eligibility verification requirements. Encourage contractors and/or subcontractors to incorporate IMAGE Best Practices and when practicable incorporate the use of E-Verify in subcontractor agreements.
  9. Establish a protocol for responding to letters or other information received from federal and state government agencies indicating that there is a discrepancy between the agency�s information and the information provided by the employer or employee (for example, �no match� letters received from the Social Security Administration) and provide employees with an opportunity to make a good faith effort to resolve the discrepancy when it is not due to employer error.
  10. Establish a tip line mechanism (inbox, email, etc.) for employees to report activity relating to the employment of unauthorized workers, and a protocol for responding to credible employee tips.
  11. Establish and maintain appropriate policies, practices and safeguards to ensure that authorized workers are not treated differently with respect to hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee or during the Form I-9, E-Verify or SSNVS processes because of citizenship status or national origin.
  12. Maintain copies of any documents accepted as proof.

For more information, see ICE information on IMAGE certification.