The American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA), through its Verification and Documentation Liaison Committee (“Verification Committee”) recently issued an FAQ compiling updated information related to employment verification (I-9) compliance requirements during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The FAQ addresses the viable options for completing the Form I-9 in remote-work scenarios and the most current developments in each type of process. Below are the main takeaways:
Process 1: In-person New Employee and HR/Admin Document Review: HR/Admin timely reviews the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence. Where employers have fully returned to in-office operations, or where they are no longer maintaining COVID-19 precautions, they must complete an in-person review of Form I-9.
Process 2: “Remote Hire” In-Person New Employee & Employer Authorized Representative Document Review: This is the so-called “Remote Hire” process, typically used in situations of on-boarding and new remote employee. Note that this is still an in-person document review conducted by a third party designated by the employer who acts as the agent. Also note that this process is not restricted only to employees based at remote locations but can also be used in any situation. Since the employer bears the liability for the agent’s errors it is best practice for the employer to train and/or provide instructions to the agents as well as perform a detailed review upon receipt of the completed Form I-9.
Process 3: Limited Temporary Option: HR/Adm’s Electronic Document Review: The virtual review option was first implemented March 20, 2020, and has been extended multiple times. The current extension expires July 31, 2023. With this process, HR/Adm timely reviews the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents electronically, not in the employee’s physical presence, but via video link, fax, email, etc.
Who can benefit from this option? The U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) confirmed to the Verification Committee the general rule in applying this option:
- Before April 1, 2021, the temporary I-9 option was available if a business was operating 100% remotely as a result of the pandemic. If it was not, the in-person verification for Form I-9 was required. ICE acknowledged, however, that the Agency will handle audits and future enforcement on a case-by-case basis. Employers do not need to have 100% of their workforce working remotely to take advantage of the virtual option if the employer has a record supporting that the virtual review option was necessitated by the pandemic.
- On or after April 1, 2021, the temporary virtual document review option is available, but only where the remote employment is a result of COVID-19-related precautions. Employers hiring “true remote” employees should conduct in-person reviews as they would have prior to the COVID-19 virtual review option being offered.
While virtual review provides a practical alternative to the in-person review, there are additional requirements in this process in order to maintain compliance:
- Create and retain a written document that captures the remote onboarding and telework policy in place when this option is used for any Form I-9 created under this process;
- Retain copies of the documents presented, as per the original guidance issued by ICE Note that security of sensitive personal information must be maintained, and the company should work with its information-security team regarding the transmission and/or capture of personal information in these situations;
- Add “COVID-19” in the Additional Information field/box on Section 2 of the Form I-9;
- Tell the employee that no later than three business days of cessation of this temporary electronic document review option or once the employee commences non-remote employment on a regular, consistent, or predictable basis (whichever is earlier), an in-person meeting and physical inspection of the document(s) will occur;
- Within three business days of such a date, coordinate the in-person meeting and physical inspection of the document(s); and,
- Add “documents physically examined,” date and initial in Section 2 Additional Information field/box, or to Section 3 of Form I-9, as appropriate.
Importantly, the virtual review process requires the employer to “perfect” the Form I-9 with an in-person meeting at a future date.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is currently reviewing the regulatory framework for document review in considering making virtual review a permanent option for I-9 compliance. DHS published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register and, since November 2022, has been reviewing comments. Simultaneously, ICE has ramped up audits and investigations as the pandemic has waned. Therefore, employers should maintain a fluid line of communication with their attorneys and employees to avoid any compliance issues.