Due to the ongoing COVID-19 emergency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is extending its flexible I-9 document inspection policy through October 31, 2022. Eligible employers will continue to be permitted to review I-9 identity and employment authorization documents without conducting a physical inspection until the interim policy expires or until three days after the COVID-19 emergency is over, whichever comes first. Employees onboarded on or after April 1, 2021 whose I-9s were completed without physical inspection of their documents must have their documents inspected in person once they begin working non-remotely on a “regular, consistent, or predictable basis.” The temporary policy allowing employers to accept expired List B identity documents during the COVID-19 pandemic is still set to expire on May 1.
A closer look
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is extending until October 31, 2022 its relaxed enforcement of the normal requirement to physically inspect the original documents presented by new hires during the I-9 process and thus allow eligible employers to continue to implement remote I-9 verification in certain circumstances during the COVID-19 emergency. The policy had been set to expire on April 30.
Employers who are eligible for and elect to use the flexible I-9 policy will be able to inspect Section 2 documents by video, fax, or email, and must retain copies of the documents. The ordinary timelines for I-9 completion remain in effect. Section 1 of the I-9 must be completed by the employee’s start date, and Section 2 must be completed within three business days of the start date. Employers taking advantage of these relaxed procedures must maintain written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee.
Interim I-9 policy for employees hired on or after April 1, 2021
The interim I-9 policy allows employers to use remote Form I-9 procedures for employees who are (1) hired on or after April 1, 2021; and (2) are working fully remotely as a COVID-19 precaution, even if the employer has employees working non-remotely at the employer’s premises. However, employers are required to use standard I-9 procedures for new hires who are working non-remotely on a “regular, consistent, or predictable basis.”
If the I-9 process for an eligible new hire is completed without physical document inspection on or after April 1, 2021, the employer will be required to inspect the employee’s I-9 documentation in person upon the earlier of (1) three days after the employee begins working non-remotely on a regular, consistent, or predictable basis; or (2) within three days after the COVID-19 emergency has ended or ICE has terminated the remote policy.
Employers can begin physical inspection of affected employees’ documents earlier than this timeframe in the employer’s discretion. Employers must ensure that they implement such an inspection practice in a consistent and non-discriminatory manner across the workforce.
Considerations for employers
Employers may continue to follow standard Form I-9 procedures, including the use of third-party agents to complete verification on the employer’s behalf. Employers who are weighing whether to adopt or continue the flexible I-9 procedures should consider the following:
- The COVID-19 flexible I-9 accommodation can be cumbersome. Employers may prefer to use or resume using standard I-9 procedures for their new hires and reverifications, which include using offsite third-party agents to inspect employee documents and complete Form I-9 on the employer’s behalf.
- Employers who use the interim I-9 accommodation will be required to physically inspect the documents of affected employees no later than three days after normal operations resume. This means that employers may have a very limited window in which to inspect the documents of large numbers of employees.
- If your organization used or uses remote I-9 procedures, consider beginning physical inspection of the documents of affected employees earlier than the deadlines prescribed by ICE. If your organization adopts this practice, it must be implemented consistently and in a non-discriminatory manner.
- Although the interim I-9 policy and its expansion give employers some welcome flexibility during the COVID-19 emergency, employers must be aware that it is not clear how ICE will enforce the policy. Among other issues, the agency has not defined “fully remote work” or “regular, consistent, or predictable” non-remote work. Therefore, employers using these procedures must weigh the risks against the administrative convenience and the possibility of fines and other penalties in the event of an I-9 inspection.
Additional guidance on I-9 completion after March 20, 2020
On March 20, 2020, ICE announced that it would evaluate certain COVID-19-related Form I-9 completion practices on a case-by-case basis as they relate to physical inspection. ICE has acknowledged, however, that in case-by-case situations (such as a case where an affected employee is no longer employed by the employer), employers may have been unable to timely inspect and verify in-person the Form I-9 supporting documents of employee(s) hired since March 20, 2020, as described above. In such cases, ICE advises that employers may memorialize the reasons for this inability in a memorandum, which should be retained with each affected employee’s Form I-9. These reasons will be evaluated, on a case-by-case basis, by ICE in the event of a Form I-9 audit.
Temporary Policy Allowing Acceptance of Expired List B Documents to End on May 1
ICE’s separate policy allowing employers to accept expired List B identity documents during the COVID-19 pandemic is still set to expire on May 1, 2022. Beginning on that date, employers may accept only unexpired List B documents. Employers will have until July 31, 2022, to update the I-9s of current employees who presented expired List B documents under that temporary policy.
ICE regulatory plans for I-9 verification
In its current regulatory agenda, ICE includes plans for a proposed regulation that would provide alternatives for the in-person inspection of identity and employment authorization documents in the Form I-9 employment eligibility verification process. The specific alternatives that might be included in a new regulation are not yet known, but they could include forms of remote inspection similar to those that have been temporarily in place due to the COVID-19 epidemic. The proposed regulation is slated to be published in June 2022, though agencies routinely bypass their projected publication dates.