For every employer, completing Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification presents a seemingly simple but a crucial and complex task in the hiring process. Every new employee needs to submit a document to prove their identity and eligibility to work for a US-based employer, and the employer is required to duly examine the document presented and promptly verify the work authorization. Failing to do that within the stipulated deadline and/or failing to do it accurately might result in hefty fines, even criminal charges.
Bearing in mind the complexity and importance of Form I-9, the recently published news that DHS is considering the possibility to propose a new rule to make the virtual I-9 review a permanent fixture in the onboarding process sounds very encouraging.
Reasons to Introduce Remote I-9 Verification
To fill out the Form I-9, both employee and employer or authorized representative need to be involved. The Section 1 needs to be filled out by an employee, and the employer is responsible for Section 2, as well as Section 3 in case of rehire, legal name change or reverification. An employee must complete Section 1 of Form I-9 by the first day of work for pay. The employer must complete Section 2 of Form I-9 within business days from the date of hire. However, if you hire someone for less than three business days, you must complete Section 2 no later than the first day of employment.
As the technological advances and nature of some businesses increased the number of workers hired to perform duties from remote locations in the last decade, the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidelines outlined the possibility for employers to designate an authorized representative to act on their behalf and fill out the Section 2 of the Form I-9, thus enabling remote I-9 verification process. Further on, since the pandemic hit in 2020 and COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, the DHS introduced a rule enabling completion of the form online for businesses operating remotely. Following this rule, set to expire on 31 October 2022 but with the likelihood of becoming permanent, companies have been able to inspect I-9 documents over a video link, in an online meeting, by fax or email.
Overcoming Remote I-9 Verification Challenges
Even though there is a lot to be hopeful about the future of remote I-9 verification procedures, employers need constantly to be aware of the possible challenges the process entails and make necessary preparations to remain compliant and avoid fines and penalties for inadvertent violations.
Working with Authorized Representatives
Businesses are free to appoint any individual as an authorized representative in the process of remote I-9 verification, be it a personnel officer, foreman, agent, or notary. However, choosing someone familiar with the form I-9 or even experienced in document inspection and verification is advisable, given the fact that employers remain liable for any violations or mistakes made by their representatives.
Depending on the states, this choice may not be so unlimited after all. The state of California is one such example. Only licensed attorneys, individuals authorized under federal law to provide immigration services, and individuals qualified and bonded as immigration consultants may act as the representatives authorized for remote I-9 verification.
Completing the Remote I-9 Forms With No Errors
Employers need to make sure that, even though the procedure is completed without their presence, the chance of making an error is reduced to a minimum. A clear set of rules and detailed instructions should be sent to both the new employee and the authorized representative who will be completing the form. The instructions should include steps to follow by both parties, including the signing of any additional business documentation when necessary. In the case of notaries acting like authorized representatives, it is important to stress that there is no need for them to provide their seal on documents – their role as notaries has no bearing on the role undertaken in the process of remote I-9 verification.
Getting Enrolled in E-Verify
There are additional compliance concerns for the employers participating in E-Verify. With the tight three-day deadline, employers need to act quickly and have I-9 forms verified with enough time for a review and timely submission. Tentative Nonconfirmations (TNCs) occur when the information entered in E-Verify do not match with the records with SSA/DHS or both; in this case, the employer needs to notify the remote employee and take steps to correct the mismatch.
The extension of the deadline for resolution of the mismatch, introduced during the pandemic, has been terminated this July. On the other hand, the proposed DHS rule is aimed at providing flexibility in remote I-9 verifications to employers enrolled in E-Verify and those with no history of being fined for I-9 violations.
Introducing Efficient Technology
To reduce potential mistakes and violations, many employers see relying on efficient electronic I-9 solutions as a way to go. Starting from storing and tracking documentation, to simplifying the remote hiring, the software for I-9 administration provides additional security while maximizing E-Verify and I-9 compliance.
When choosing the system to use, employers need to carefully check its features to make sure the technology is employed in such a way as to turn the I-9 verification, storing and management from complex and daunting into a simple, secure, and efficient process.
By opting for an electronic comprehensive automatic system, the employer is eliminating a great portion of the challenge, and ensuring an efficient approach to onboarding remote employees without worrying about the compliance and outcome of the I-9 audit.
Remote I-9 Verification as a Response to Growing Remote Workforce
The future of work is never easy to predict, but it appears that its remote and hybrid forms are here to stay. There is a great number of individuals for whom remote work is a necessity, either due to their location or a physical disability that makes the in-person inspection of documents impossible. A number of factors can influence the shift towards remote work: technology development, economic trends, and different needs of employees, to name but a few. This flexibility is bringing many benefits to both businesses and their employees, but it remains a challenge in terms of management and compliance that needs to be ensured in every aspect of the business operations.
As the Form I-9 remains a very important first step in the working relationship, the importance of doing it right, whether in person or through remote I-9 verification, cannot be overstated.
An automated solution helps minimize the risks of faults in the I-9 verification process with built-in quality control mechanisms, safely stored, easy-to-access I-9s, prompt notification of expired authorizations, integrating E-Verify and data verification algorithms.