Since March 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its agencies, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have repeatedly extended a number of flexibilities regarding immigration processes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While DHS recently terminated its temporary policy of allowing employers to accept expired List B identity documents for I-9 purposes, on April 25, 2022, ICE announced a six-month extension of the Form I-9 remote document inspection flexibility policy until October 31, 2022.
The extension will continue to apply the guidance previously issued for employees who work exclusively in a remote setting due to COVID-19-related precautions. Those employees are temporarily exempt from the physical inspection requirements associated with the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification until they undertake non-remote employment on a regular, consistent, or predictable basis, or the extension of the flexibilities related to such requirements is terminated, whichever is earlier. However, there is no exception to the three-business day rule and Section 3 reverification guidance.
The latest extension is a welcome relief for many businesses, especially those that have permanently shifted to fully remote or hybrid work environments, as it was unclear how long the Form I-9 remote document inspection would continue to exist in a post-pandemic world.
What Is Form I-9 Remote Document Inspection?
With the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the DHS began providing flexibility to the in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9. This flexibility means that employers may examine their employees’ identity and employment eligibility documents remotely, for example over a video link, fax, email, etc.
Form I-9 remote document inspection temporary policy only applies to employers and workplaces that are operating remotely. If there are employees physically present at a work location, no exceptions are being implemented at this time for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification.
In situations where employers are unable to timely inspect and verify, in-person, the Form I-9 supporting documents of employees hired since March 20, 2020, such as cases in which affected employees are no longer employed by the employer, employers may memorialize the reasons for this inability in a memorandum retained with each affected employee’s Form I-9. Any such reasons will be evaluated, on a case-by-case basis, by ICE in the event of a Form I-9 audit.Use this comprehensive guide to navigate verification of employment eligibility and Form I-9 compliance with ease and avoid any potential violations or penalties.
Current Status of the Form I-9 Remote Document Inspection Flexibility Policy
Form I-9 remote document inspection flexibility policy has been extended several times since its inception. In addition to this, in late October of 2021, the DHS requested input from the public (RFPI) regarding the virtual completion of Forms I-9, announcing possible changes to the I-9 process. Following the RFPI, in the Fall Regulatory Agenda released in December, DHS indicated that this summer there would be a release of a proposed rule on Form I-9 remote document inspection to reduce burdens on employers and employees alike.
While it is still uncertain if the idea of a permanent virtual option will be accepted, employers should work under the assumption that anyone initially verified using the virtual flexibility will be required to review and record documents in-person as employees return to the workplace.
In the interim, companies should plan accordingly and consider the following steps to ensure Form I-9 compliance:
- Follow I-9 Central for COVID-19 & Form I-9 Related News;
- Have a written remote I-9 policy and make sure that it is consistently applied throughout the organization;
- Keep track of all Form I-9s that are remotely completed and ensure that I-9 reports are up to date with those that have been physically inspected;
- Inspect the Section 2 documents remotely and obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents, within three business days for purposes of completing Section 2;
- Write “Remote inspection completed on MM/DD/YYYY” in Section 2 Additional Information box or Section 3 for reverifications once the remote inspection is completed;
- Once normal operations resume, all employees who were onboarded using remote or virtual verification must report to their employer within three business days for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Employers should enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical inspection delay in Section 2 Additional Information box;
- Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate.
New Form I-9 Coming Soon
In addition to staying compliant with the thirteenth extension of Form I-9 remote document inspection policy, employers should be aware that DHS published Federal Register notice 87 FR 18377 on March 30, inviting public comments on its proposed extension and revisions to the Form I-9. DHS is announcing some major changes to the current version, which is set to expire on October 31, 2022.
In anticipation of other changes to flexibilities introduced due to the pandemic, employers should monitor the DHS announcements for updates and establish a compliance program to be able to produce accurate documentation, keep up with all government regulations, and avoid fines and penalties. To achieve this successfully, companies should turn to technology solutions and overcome the challenge of managing Form I-9 completion, storage, and maintenance. In addition to this, they can solve remote Form I-9 verification issues and inspect work authorization documents with a cloud-based I-9 solution while staying in compliance with both USCIS and DHS guidelines.Ensure a consistent Form I-9 management and eliminate the possibility of errors leading to penalties by using an electronic I-9 software solution.