Even I-9s Affected by COVID-19 (If Operating Remotely), Plus a New Form

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Even I-9s Affected by COVID-19 (If Operating Remotely), Plus a New FormThe newest edition of Form I-9 is officially here, and DHS has provided some guidance on how to inspect work authorization documents in a COVID-19 remote world.

The New Form

Last fall, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a revised Form I-9, which has an edition date at the bottom that reads “10/21/19.” Since January 31, 2020, employers have been allowed to use either this 10/21/19 revised version or the prior version, which bears a “07/17/17” edition date. This, however, is about to change. Starting May 1, 2020, employers must use the 10/21/19 edition or risk fines for non-compliance.

New Guidance on Inspecting Documents Remotely

Meanwhile, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued some guidance that temporarily relaxes the Form I-9 document inspection requirements for employers who are operating remotely.

Under this temporary policy modification, if you have employees working remotely as a result of COVID-19, you are not initially required to inspect those employees’ work authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence as part of the Form I-9 process. Instead, you may inspect the documents remotely — for example, by video link, fax, or email — to complete the Form I-9 within the normal time frame. If you inspect the documents remotely, you must retain copies of the documents and enter “COVID-19” in the Additional Information field on the Form I-9. Then, once your normal operations resume, within three days you must physically inspect the employee’s original documents and make a note in the Additional Information field reflecting the date of that physical inspection, as well as who conducted it.

A few more important notes about this temporary change to the Form I-9 process:

  • This change does not apply to employees who are physically present at the employer’s work location. You must continue to physically inspect those employees’ documents in accordance with normal Form I-9 procedures.
  • You can use the temporary policy both to onboard new employees who will work remotely, as well as to re-verify the work authorization of existing employees working remotely.
  • This temporary modification will be in effect until May 19, 2020, or three days after the termination of the COVID-19 national emergency, whichever comes first. After that, unless the temporary policy is extended, all the normal Form I-9 rules will apply.

USCIS has issued a set of Questions and Answers, which provides some additional guidance about the temporary policy. If you wish to take advantage of these more flexible rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should review this guidance and keep an eye out for additional announcements from DHS.