Top FAQ Answers For Interim Changes to the I-9 Guidelines

While penalties for violations vary according to the offense, simple mistakes like an employee not signing a form can run upwards of nearly $2,000 per instance.

The challenges presented by the current global health crisis has employers scrambling to help employees shift from the physical workplace to a virtual office environment. This process has brought a sharp focus on the difficulties of meeting employment verification standards set out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Many hiring managers have struggled to meet in-person inspection requirements of the Form I-9 while trying to observe the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control to minimize health risks to staff. In March 2020, DHS made temporary changes to the physical inspection requirement of work authorization documents to alleviate this burden.

These changes have caused more questions than answers, so we have put together this short FAQ to help you navigate these important new adjustments to the I-9 process.

What Rule Changed in the Form I-9?

Under DHS guidance, remote inspection of an employee’s identification and work authorizations is now acceptable. Employers can inspect these documents through fax, scanned email attachments, and even physically by use of mail services.

It is important to note that there are additional stipulations to this change, including that:

  • Employers must receive, review, and keep copies of these Section 2 documents within the normal three business days after hiring.
  • The phrase ‘Covid-19’ is necessary for the Additional Information Field.
  • Physical inspection of these submitted documents must take place within three business days of operations going back to normal.
  • Once an in-person review takes place, the phrase ‘documents physically examined’ must go in the Additional Information box of Section 2, along with the name of the reviewer and date.

Only employers who are working under remote conditions are to use these guidelines. If you have employees on-site but are still having difficulty meeting I-9 verification protocols due to a Covid-19 quarantine, DHS plans to evaluate these instances on a case by case basis.

Frequently Asked Questions About The New I-9 Guidance

The temporary relaxation of in-person document inspection guidelines has not come without additional questions and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and DHS haven’t addressed all of them. This situation has left many hiring managers unsure about other aspects of I-9 compliance and if other sections of this document are necessary.

Below are some best practices to follow and answers to common questions Pre-employ has received from our customers.

How Can My Employees Complete Section 1?

Regardless of the in-person inspection changes, Section 1 of the Form I-9 is mandatory and needs filling out by the first day your employee begins work. The real question is how to do this remotely. DHS doesn’t specify, but one can assume emailing it to your new hire, and then having them complete it and scan it back should meet this requirement. You can also have them mail it to you directly or bring the original on the first day that everyone is back in the office.

How Should I Store Digital Copies of Completed I-9s and Verification Documents?

Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer to this question. Whether you received documentation via screenshots, email attachment, or through letter mail, it’s important to protect this information.

There are several ways to protect sensitive I-9 documentation while working virtually by following one of the following best practices:

  • Print out digital copies and place in your employee’s or dedicated I-9 file
  • Store in a secured, online drive
  • Use an online I-9 compliance service to store and keep track of this documentation

Will My Employees Have To Provide Physical Copies of Identification Later?

While you cannot tell your employees which documentation you will accept remotely, you can assume they will provide you with the same forms of identification when completing the physical inspection requirement once your business resumes normal operations. If they lose their actual copies between now and then, you can contact DHS or have them fill out a new Section 2 to go with their originally submitted version. Write an explanation for the reason in the Additional Information Field.

What Does “Normal Operations” Mean?

This phrase has many human resources and hiring managers scratching their heads. The requirement that in-person document reviews begin once your business has returned to normal operations isn’t as easy as it sounds. Some companies are only partially resuming or only having certain departments return to the physical workspace.

The best course of action is to have any employees scheduled to come into the office, even if only a few hours or a day, to bring their original forms with them if they didn’t physically mail them to you through the post. Also, have them bring along the actual work authorizations and identification they submitted with their form.

It’s easier to get this step completed as early as possible and avoid unnecessary delays that could lead to an NOI audit (notice of inspection) for failing to comply in a timely manner.