Remote I-9 Inspection Is Here to Stay for Another 30 days (until September 19)
Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced yet another 30-day extension of its remote Form I-9 document inspection allowance as COVID-19 continues to impact employers and workers across the country.
Introduced in late March, remote inspection (or what I call “virtual verification”) is a special, temporary policy which enables remote employers to review identity and work authorization documents remotely (through video, email, etc.) , rather than meet in-person as is normally required under the Form I-9 rules.
But wait, there’s a catch! Employers inspecting documents remotely must conduct a physical inspection of the documents once “normal business operations resume” – a phrase that most HR managers find exceedingly vague considering that nobody really knows what is truly “normal’ these days.
What we do know is that ICE intends virtual verification to be a temporary reprieve. Under their initial announcement, the policy was put in place for a period of 60 days OR within 3 business days after the termination of the National Emergency, whichever comes first.
Since then, the agency has issued a series of 30-day extensions, the latest of which was just announced today. Per ICE’s memo, employers may continue to use the virtual verification process for their newly hired workers and reverifications until September 19, 2020.
Virtual Verification Recap
As we’ve discussed extensively on this blog, the virtual verification option comes with a few “strings attached” that should be considered by any HR department looking to utilize this path to complete I-9s or conduct reverifications. 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, secure upload, 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 specific language here is relatively new – 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?
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.
When will the virtual verification policy end?
As they have done in prior alerts, ICE noted that they will “continue to monitor the ongoing national emergency and provide updated guidance as needed.” In addition, ICE notes that “[E]mployers are required to monitor the DHS and ICE websites for additional updates regarding when the extensions will be terminated, and normal operations will resume.”
LawLogix is also monitoring the situation too, and we’ll continue to provide timely updates and practice advisories as new information becomes available. In the meantime, please 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 times.