DHS Extends I-9 Virtual Verification Policy until January 31, 2021
Just in time for the holidays, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today announced yet another extension of its flexible Form I-9 review policy for employers who are operating remotely as a result of COVID-19. The new expiration date for the so-called virtual verification I-9 review process is now January 31, 2021.
Introduced in late March, virtual verification has enabled remote employers to review identity and work authorization documents remotely, rather than in-person as is normally required under the Form I-9 rules. Organizations utilizing this process must then conduct a physical inspection of the documents once “normal business operations resume.”
To date, DHS has not clearly defined what “normal business operations” really looks like – largely because the agency, like the rest of the country, is not sure what the “new normal” will look like either. Presumably, normal operations would involve the return of workers to the employer’s offices and workplaces, but it is unclear at this point how DHS will treat employers that utilize a “phased-in” return to work process once the pandemic is truly under control.
In the meantime, employers can continue to use the virtual verification option for new hires and reverifications until January 31, 2021. Here is what you need to know.
In order to use virtual I-9 verification, employers must:
- Have employees working remotely or otherwise be subject to lockdown protocols (see our blog here for determining if you qualify)
- Inspect the employee’s documents remotely (e.g., by video, email, fax, etc.)
- For new hires, ensure the I-9 is completed (both Sections 1 and 2) within 3 days of the employee’s start date
- For reverifications, ensure Section 3 is completed before the employee’s work authorization expires
- Maintain copies of the documents inspected remotely
- Maintain written documentation of the remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee
- Write “Remote inspection completed on xx/xx/xxxx” in the Section 2 Additional Information box or Section 3 for reverifications (the USCIS recommends specific language – see our blog here for more information)
- Ensure that a physical in-person inspection is performed within 3 days after normal business operations resume, and the Form I-9 is updated accordingly.
Should employers continue using virtual verification in the new year?
For some organizations, virtual verification has been extraordinarily helpful. Employers operating remotely can safely onboard their new employees (or reverify existing ones) without risking the safety and health of the HR department and the newly hired workers themselves. Employers using electronic I-9 systems, in particular, have quickly adapted to the virtual process using helpful tools such as employee document capture and upload, COVID-19 follow-up tracking, and advanced reporting.
Other organizations have opted to go a different route, and use authorized representatives (which may include the new hire’s friend or family member) to conduct an in-person verification on the employer’s behalf. As we’ve discussed in the past, the authorized representative path has a lot of advantages over virtual verification, not the least of which is the fact that it’s always an available option for employers – not subject to sudden policy termination.
It’s also worth noting that the authorized representative option involves just one verification (in-person) as compared with the virtual verification option which essentially requires two steps (a virtual and an in-person verification). HR departments looking for tips and tricks on how to successfully setup an authorized representative process should check out our detailed blog here.
And remember, you can always drop us a line if you have questions or if we can assist in helping your organization with I-9 and E-Verify services during these challenging and unpredictable times.