Can an Employer Ask Where You Were Born?

An interview should remain friendly and professional, no matter what questions are asked.
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An interviewer employer may ask you many things about yourself during an interview, but certain questions are off limits. These rules change once you've accepted a job offer. Once you've accepted and signed a written offer for a job, you'll be required to fill out paperwork and answer additional questions. This most often always includes proof of your citizenship. If you are asked illegal questions during the interview, handle the situation with tact and keep your original goals in mind.

In the Interview

    An interviewer is not legally allowed to ask you for your citizenship status, your nationality, or your place of birth. Because you've not yet been hired, these types of questions can lead to bias. According to The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, immigration status and citizenship cannot be used against an applicant. Once hired, an employee is required to sign an I-9 form which provides the employer with proof of your identity.

Getting Around the Question

    In the interview, the employer can and may ask you if you are authorized to work in the United States. You can answer this question without offering information about your citizenship status or your place of birth. This is a standard question, and is not designed to trick you into revealing your place of birth; you are not obligated to disclose any more than a simple "yes" or "no."

Once Hired

    Once you've accepted a job offer, you will fill out an I-9 form which verifies your identity. This form requires you to report your place of birth, citizenship status, and employment eligibility. This form protects the employer from the liability of hiring an unauthorized worker. Employment laws vary by state, so your rights will depend on the state where you're employed. Check your employee handbook as well as your state laws if you're unsure about whether an employer's questions are legal.

What to Do if Asked

    If you are asked where you were born during a job interview, you have the right to refuse the question; however, a direct refusal to answer or making an allegation of illegal interviewing could cost you the job opportunity. You can handle this situation in a civil way. If an employer asks an illegal question, it is likely due to an oversight. It's common for interviews to turn into casual conversations, and some questions may come out of a conversational approach to getting to know you better. Don't attack the interviewer. Instead, simply state, "I am authorized to work in the United States" or "I am currently seeking authorization to work in the United States" and ignore the original question. This is an excellent way to demonstrate your finesse with professional conversation.

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