For U.S. employers, complying with Form I-9 is one of the most vital aspects of the onboarding process. However, exemptions and changes to this compliance in the last few years have produced some confusion for employers on what exactly is permitted.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers were required to examine each employee’s identification and work authorization documents in person. With the shift to remote work, that is no longer the case, but employers still have some critical points to keep in mind in order to stay compliant.
COVID-19 Exceptions on Form I-9 Verification
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USCIS) provided temporary exemptions to the in-person verification requirement for Form I-9. These exemptions allowed remote document verification during the pandemic when many employees were working remotely or were unable to visit their employers' physical locations.
The main exemptions made during this time were:
Physical Presence Waiver: Employers were allowed to review Section 2 documents remotely, such as over video, email, or fax. This waiver allowed the employee to present their identity and work authorization documents remotely instead of being physically present with their employer.
Extension of Timeframe: The normal timeframe within which an employer must physically review the employee's documents (usually within three business days of the employee’s first day) was extended. Due to the challenges of obtaining physical documents during the pandemic, employers were given additional time to complete Section 2 of Form I-9.
After several extensions, these exemptions officially expired on July 31, 2023. However, due to the resulting national shift towards a more remote or hybrid workforce, certain employers may continue to remotely verify I-9 documents, which will be covered in the next section.
Remote I-9 Document Verification Compliance
When hiring remote employees, employers have a few options to compliantly verify identification documents.
Larger companies with multiple locations can instruct remote employees to visit the nearest satellite office in order to have their documentation verified. Depending on the employee’s proximity to an office location, however, this option can be time-consuming and costly.
Another option is for the employer to recruit an authorized agent who is local to the employee to carry out Form I-9 responsibilities. In states other than California, this can technically be any member of the public, although typically a notary public or agent is used.
Since violations of I-9 compliance can be costly for businesses, it is vital to ensure that the authorized agent chosen is professional, trustworthy, and able to carry out full Form I-9 responsibilities on the company’s behalf.
CA Authorized Agents
In California, an individual must have additional qualifications in order to be considered an authorized agent. I-9 documentation must be verified by either a licensed attorney, an individual authorized under federal law to provide immigration services, or an individual qualified and bonded as an immigration consultant under California law.
Many notaries in California possess one of these qualifications, but be certain that they are authorized to complete immigration forms such as the I-9 before using their services for this reason.
Alternative Remote Verification Method
Following the expiration of COVID-19 exceptions on remote verification, USCIS announced that qualified employers (that is, those that are enrolled in E-Verify, compliant with all E-Verify program requirements, and are in good standing) may continue to remotely verify employees’ I-9 documentation by taking the following steps within three days of the employee’s start date:
Receive and examine copies of the employee’s Form I-9 documents (or an acceptable receipt) and determine if the documents appear to be genuine. If the documents are two-sided, employers need to examine copies of both the front and back.
Conduct a live video meeting with the employee. The employee needs to bring the same documents that they sent to the employer so the employer can ensure that they reasonably appear to be genuine and relate to the employee.
Check the box on Form I-9 (Rev. 08/01/23) that an “alternative procedure” was used to examine documentation to complete Section 2 or re-verification. If an employer is using the old form (Rev. 10/21/19) they should write “alternative procedure” in the Additional Information field in Section 2.
Retain clear and legible copies of all documents that the employee sent to complete Form I-9, regardless of whether the documents are from List A, List B, or List C.
This alternative method is often the most flexible option, especially for smaller companies or those that are hiring a remote workforce. Take note, though, that if an employer offers this alternative procedure at a particular hiring site, it must be offered to all employees at that site. There is an exception, however, if employers want to offer the alternative procedure only to remote employees and do in-person inspections for onsite and hybrid employees. Employers can’t choose when to use remote or in-person verification based on a person’s or group of employees’ citizenship or immigration status, national origin, or any other protected characteristic.
HR professionals navigating the complexities of remote I-9 verification must stay informed about the changes and exemptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the temporary exemptions on physical presence have expired, the shift towards remote and hybrid workforces has opened up new options for compliantly verifying identification documents.
When handling compliance, modern HRIS solutions like GoCo can take away the anxiety and stress around document verification. With features such as an E-Verify integration, centralized record-keeping, the ability to assign a remote verifier, and important reminders around agency rules and updates, GoCo gives you the confidence that you are staying organized and compliant from day one. Find out more today or check out the video below to see how GoCo can help you with remote I-9 compliance!
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