As an employer, did the COVID-19 pandemic change the way your business operates?
Around the world, workplaces have looked a lot different since March 2020. One of the biggest transformations has been the uptick in remote workers.
Reports show that 50% of executives are planning to require employees to return to work in the next year. However, 52% of workers are looking for a full-time remote or hybrid job by the end of 2022.
If you have any employees who work outside of your office, you will need to complete the remote I9 verification process.
Today, we’re sharing how that process works and answering some common questions so you can get this step right the first time.
What Is I9 Remote Verification?
Form I-9 is a form required to verify a new hire’s identity. It’s created and submitted under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In addition to covering their personal identification details, this form also authorizes employees to work in the United States.
Government regulations require employees to complete and submit an I-9 at the time of their hire.
The I-9 is broken into three main sections. Let’s take a look at each one in greater detail.
Section 1: Worker Authorization
In Section 1, workers will authorize that they are legally allowed to work in the United States. They must complete this section before beginning their first official, paid day at work.
Section 2: Worker Identification
Section 2 describes certain identification documents that workers must submit to prove who they are. There are also specific work authorization forms required in this section. Employees will compile the requested documents and record the appropriate numbers in the Section 2 fields.
Each individual employer is responsible for reviewing these documents to ensure that they are genuine and accurate.
Employees must complete and submit this section within three business days of receiving the I-9 form.
Section 3: Worker Authorization Renewal
If an employee is temporarily authorized to work in the United States, that authorization will have an expiration date.
When this date occurs, their employer will complete Section 3 on the I-9 form. At this time, the worker will need to present new or updated documents re-authorizing them to continue work.
Their employer will review the documents for accuracy and record the appropriate numbers in Section 3.
Note that you may also need to complete this step if you’re rehiring a former employee. If enough time has passed between their initial appointment and this next one, their worker authorization might have lapsed.
Employees and employers must complete and submit Section 3 no later than the date that the worker’s employment authorization expires.
Section 4: List of Acceptable Documents
Section 4 on Form I-9 clarifies all of the documents that the USCIS will accept in terms of worker identification and authorization.
There is nothing to complete in this section. It is for informational purposes only.
How Do I Complete Section 2 Remotely?
In a standard office setting, employers would review worker documents in the physical presence of the worker.
This is a key step, as it allows you to verify that their appearance matches the likeness on the document. It also gives you the opportunity to ask questions and clarify any details before submitting Form I-9 to the government.
Before the pandemic, you would simply ask the employer to come to the workplace for this step, even if they worked in the field or at a satellite office. Or you could designate an authorized company representative, such as a notary public, to complete Section 2 on your behalf.
However, we don’t have to tell you that nothing is standard anymore. The pandemic has changed the way employers operate, and we’re navigating a new normal.
What does this step look like now? If the worker in question is remote, how does that process change?
Thankfully, there’s a new step in place that allows you to complete the document verification process remotely.
Form I-9 Remote Flexibility
Although it was set to expire on April 30, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that they will extend remote options for Form I-9: Employment Eligibility Verification.
Now, remote verification is in place through October 31, 2022.
How Does Remote Verification Work?
Do you have any employees hired on or after April 1, 2021? If these employees work strictly in a remote setting due to pandemic-related precautions, then they are temporarily exempt from the previous Form I-9 Section 2 verification procedures.
They do not have to be physically present when their employer reviews their identification and authorization documents. However, this is not a permanent workaround.
If these employees ever begin working in-person at an office on a regular or predictable basis, they will be required to complete the in-person verification process. The same applies if these government-regulated flexibilities expire.
Selecting an Authorized Representative
Removing the in-person meeting requirement is a major burden lifted. However, the onus is still on the employer to ensure that the I9 for remote employees is still valid and accurate.
To do so, you can choose to hire an authorized representative to conduct the inspection on behalf of your company.
Legally authorized entities include:
- Personnel officers
- Notary publics
The DHS and ICE do not require the representative to have a specific type of agreement with your company. They are also not required to present any type of documentation for Form I-9 purposes. Note that even if you outsource this task to a representative, your company is still liable if any violations occur in relation to the new hire’s identification or verification process.
Using I-9 Remote Verification Software
Wondering how to verify remote I9 documents without hiring your own representatives?
As an alternative, many are using I-9 software that takes care of the legwork for them. These programs put employers in touch with authorized representatives who will review the new hire’s documents and complete Section 2 on the company’s behalf.
There is no meeting required, and HR departments don’t have to wrangle hiring administrators to take on the mountain of paperwork. This type of software saves a business time and money and also helps protect review accuracy.
Software developers work one-on-one with legal experts to develop a process that’s secure and federally compliant. To guarantee authenticity and guard against future offenses, there will be a complete audit trail for employers to keep and track.
This trail will include specific details of the authorization process, including:
- Detailed time logs
- Geolocation data
- IP web address data
In addition, most software programs also use smart scanning tools to automate certain portions of the document completion process. This saves time and energy and helps prevent manual user errors that could slow down the hiring and onboarding process.
Completing the Review Process Remotely
If you do not choose to use I9 remote verification software to complete this process, you do have another option.
Employers are permitted to inspect the Section 2 documents remotely, using any of the following means:
- Video link
You can use these tools to obtain, inspect, retain, and manage copies of employee identification and verification documents. Regardless of which medium you use, the process must be completed within three business days per I-9 Section 2 requirements. This timeline was not extended under the new government rules.
You must note in Section 2 which specific documents you reviewed, and when the remote inspection took place. You must also note “COVID-19” in the Additional Information field.
Note that if you use an electronic version of Form I-9, you will not have access to the Additional Information field. In this case, you will need to physically or electronically attach a separate note to the form.
On this note, you should include the information that the DHS and ICE requested in the Additional Information field. Then, sign and date it for verification.
What About Employees Hired in 2020?
The DHS and ICE set April 1, 2021, as the new hire cutoff date for the new I-9 remote verification flexibility. Yet, what if you onboarded workers before that time?
Government officials understand that employees hired since March 2020 might still be working in remote positions. If that’s the case, their employers may be unable to inspect and verify their Form I-9 supporting documents in person.
If this scenario applies to you, then you must list in writing the reasons why you cannot complete the verification process in person with the employee. Keep this memorandum with the affected worker’s Form I-9.
If your workplace ever undergoes a Form I-9 audit, then the DHS and ICE will evaluate those notes on a case-by-case basis.
What About In-Person Employees?
The only employees required to complete Section 2 in person with their employer are those who physically report to work at a corporate location on a regular, consistent basis.
If a formerly remote employee returns to work, then you must complete the review process again in person.
When you do so, find the field labeled Section 2: Additional Information. Here, you will need to list “COVID-19” as your reason for delaying the physical document inspection.
In this field, you should also add a line that says “Documents Physically Examined” and list all of the documents that you reviewed in person. Include the date that you completed each inspection.
If they return to work and their original documents have expired, that’s OK. As long as the documents were unexpired at the time of your remote inspection, you do not have to request a new document. Instead, you can proceed with the rest of your physical inspection in accordance with DHS guidelines.
What If an In-Person Employee Submits a Different Document?
You completed the I9 verification process remotely when you first hired the employee. Now, they’re back and work and it’s time to re-do the process in person.
However, they are now submitting new documents to prove their identity and verify their ability to work in the U.S. What should you do?
In this situation, you have two options.
First, you can complete a brand-new Section 2 using a new Form I-9. If you do so, attach this updated form to the original Section 2 used for remote inspection.
Or, you can re-visit the Additional Information field in the original Form I-9, Section 2. Here, you will need to provide information about the new employee documents. Then, note that the employee shared these documents at their physical inspection.
Does This Apply to Other Sections?
The only Form I-9 section affected by the COVID-19 flexibility guidelines is Section 2. Employers must still complete and submit Section 1 as normal.
What About Extended Licenses?
Driver’s licenses are commonly used as a form of employee identification under Form I-9, Section 2.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states are extending their license expiration dates to allow drivers the ability to stay home and avoid an in-person DMV meeting.
How does that change your verification process?
If the employee’s ID or driver’s license expired on or after March 1, 2020, and your state has extended the expiration date in the wake of the pandemic, then you can still use their license or ID as an acceptable document.
To do so, simply enter the license’s expiration date in Section 2. Then, write “COVID-19 EXT” in the Additional Information field.
To verify that the expiration date was extended, you will also need to attach a copy of your state’s motor vehicle department webpage. Or, you can attach another government notice that describes the extension.
Ace the Remote I9 Verification Process
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way the world works. As an employer, you’ve felt these shifts firsthand.
While creating, submitting, and managing worker documentation has always been a challenge, the past two years have exacerbated these concerns. With tools like remote I9 verification, the process is a little easier.
Keep a close eye on DHS and ICE guidelines to understand and prepare for any changes. When the October 31 deadline hits, there may be another extension or the procedure may change altogether.
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