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Going Electronic? The “Seven W’s” for Developing an Effective SOP for Electronic I-9 Implementation

[Editor’s Note: today’s blog is courtesy of Tien-Li Loke Walsh and L. Batya Schwartz Ehrens of the Wolfsdorf Immigration Law Group. These distinguished attorneys have also written an extensive white paper on this subject.]

Although the immigration debate in the U.S. remains in a stalemate, employers of all sizes and across every industry are swiftly becoming familiar with the jargon of worksite compliance due to increased government audits and enforcement actions.  The Form I-9, which was once a routine and minor human resources formality for new employees, has become a source of anxiety for employers aware of the grave consequences of noncompliance, or even inadvertent errors in data entry or record keeping.

Many employers have made strategic decisions to invest in electronic I-9 storage and management systems to minimize the risk of noncompliance. However, investing in electronic I-9 management systems, or even learning the vocabulary of the world of compliance, is simply not enough in today’s electronic world. Organizations must also develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to integrate the electronic I-9 management system into their business operations.

Journalists depend on the “Seven W’s” (Who, What, Where, When, in What way, by What means, and Why) to glean and report the most important information in a news story.  Similarly, employers implementing or contemplating a migration to an electronic I-9 system can depend on these same “Seven W’s” to design an SOP to effectively integrate a new electronic system, which will take into account its own unique structure and existing internal resources.

Outlined below is a sample of the essential elements which must be incorporated into any Electronic I-9 Implementation SOP.

1. WHO:  Clearly define roles and assign responsibilities to each employee assigned to carry out the I-9 process.

  • Who is responsible for I-9 intake and completion?
  • Who will have access to the system?
  • Who is responsible for monitoring expirations, and carrying out re-verification?
  • Who is responsible for monitoring terminations?
  • Who coordinates with the internal Visa Team or outside immigration counsel for visa expirations?
  • Who coordinates with the M & A Team?

2. WHAT:  Make decisions about what practices your company will routinely follow and ensure procedural uniformity throughout the entire organization, including departments, divisions, branches, any additional worksites, etc.

  • What is the company’s policy towards making copies of supporting documentation to show an employee is employment authorized?
  • What types of training will be conducted and how often will such training be held?

3. WHERE:  Identify any unique circumstances about the corporate structure which affect how the program will be implemented.

  • Does your company have multiple locations?
  • Is your company a “family” of companies with multiple entities with their own FEINs?
  • Are any of your companies located in places that are subject to mandatory E-Verify?
  • Do any of your companies have agreements with federal contractors or organizations that may require its contractors or subcontractors to participate in E-Verify?
  • Does your company have different divisions or departments which handle the I-9 function?
  • How centralized or decentralized will the system be within the corporate structure?

4. WHEN:  Certain events demand a timely response.  Develop plans of action when transitioning to an electronic I-9 system, when using the system, and when emergencies arise.

  • Develop a plan of action for key steps during the data migration processes when transitioning to an electronic I-9 system.
  • Develop a plan of action for any types of mergers and acquisitions, or corporate restructuring of any kind.
  • Develop a plan of action in the event of an ICE visit or audit request or subpoena.
  • Develop a plan of action for E-Verify, including the specific worksites to be enrolled.

5. IN WHAT WAY: Identify in what way your company will oversee and carry out the I-9 process

  • Where will employees complete the electronic I-9?
  • Determine whether the employee completes the I-9 form on the first day of employment or prior to the first day.
  • How will your company process I-9s for remote employees?

6. BY WHAT MEANS:  Any type of implementation process requires a coordinated two-pronged approach:

  • Appoint a Compliance Czar to ensure coordination and consistency.
  • Seek out competent immigration counsel to assist in developing a comprehensive immigration and I-9 compliance plan and to address any legal issues that arise during and after implementation of the electronic I-9 system.

7. WHY:  Why Your Company Must Carefully Consider Adopting Electronic I-9 Systems

We live in the electronic age, where everything that was once tangible is now electronic.  The Department of Homeland Security, and its enforcement division, ICE, have also transitioned to the electronic age as evidenced by their own electronic systems such as E-Verify and IMAGE.  While paper I-9 completion is still routine, the looming threat of I-9 audits and increasing fines and penalties, are a constant reminder to companies that the status quo is no longer a viable option. Furthermore, the inevitability of mandatory E-Verify will eventually require even more coordination of internal I-9 systems. Employers seeking security and assurance that their I-9 forms are completed properly increasingly turn to electronic systems to help manage this monumental task.


The benefits of moving toward an electronic system are enormous.  However, improvements in effective monitoring and compliance are undermined by inadequate implementation.  Companies must be mindful to employ dependable systems designed to address the most complex challenges of the changing universe of worksite compliance.  Some companies depend on human resource management systems containing I-9 components.  These systems provide a rudimentary structure, but lack the essential components of a comprehensive I-9 system equipped and constantly updated to address today’s complex I-9 and E-Verify issues.

Even as you enter into the world of electronic I-9 systems, having a comprehensive SOP is imperative.  In addition, it is even more critical than ever, to work with legal counsel with expertise in worksite compliance –  that can develop SOPs specifically tailored to your company’s needs, monitor your I-9 compliance efforts, conduct in-house audits to prepare for the possibility of an ICE audit, and serve as a resource when errors and inconsistencies arise.

Tien-Li Loke Walsh is a senior attorney with the Wolfsdorf Immigration Law Group in Los Angeles. Ms. Loke Walsh’s immigration law practice focuses on obtaining visas for professors and researchers, artists and entertainers, athletes, investors, multinational company transfers and professionals in various industries.  In addition, Ms. Loke Walsh assists clients with I-9 audits, H-1B audits and corporate compliance policies.

L. Batya Schwartz Ehrens is an immigration attorney with the Wolfsdorf Immigration Law Group in New York City. Ms. Schwartz Ehrens advises large and small corporations on visa strategies and immigration compliance. She also represents investors, executives, and artists seeking green cards and visas.


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