In the last four to five months, COVID-19 has significantly altered the U.S.’s daily ways of life, from how we interact with others and where we can go to how we work. As a result of the quarantine, organizations have primarily shifted to a remote workforce. They have had to face many new challenges and adjustments, such as how to onboard their new employees. In one of Smart ERP Solutions’ polls, approximately 25% of respondents noted that their hiring plans were decreasing while, while approximately 75% of respondents said their hiring plans have not changed or are increasing over the next 12 months. These trends are good news, as it points out that many organizations are still able to operate as usual, despite the new challenges presented by COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders. However, this also points to a significant need to ensure compliance in onboarding documents such as I-9 and E-Verify. These documents provide substantial obstacles as they require in-person verification, thereby making it harder to complete these forms remotely. In response, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented some changes and relaxed some requirements around the Form I-9 physical document review that are important for any company moving forward and working in the face of COVID-19.
In both June and July, Smart ERP Solutions hosted a webinar with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about the new Form I-9 Physical Document Review changes as a result of COVID-19 and the resulting shelter-in-place orders. The critical issue at hand is: how can companies today physically inspect documents if people cannot physically be with one another? To answer this question, DHS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have announced increased flexibility for I-9 compliance requirements. The provisions, initially set for March 6th, have now been extended to July 19th. After July 19th, the national emergency will be lifted. There will be no grace period, and as far as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is concerned, it will be business as usual. This update is essential for all organizations as it means that all I-9s from the COVID-19 period are due on July 22nd.
Here’s what you need to know for the upcoming deadline:
- Applied only to employers and workplaces that are operating remotely, and employers must provide written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee. This burden rests solely with employers.
- Employers must inspect the Section 2 documents remotely and obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents within three business days for Section 2.
- Enter COVID-19 in Section 2 additional information as a reason for physical review delay, can do on Section 3 as well.
- Within three days of normal operation resumption, physically inspect documents with the employee present.
- Write “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the Section 2 Additional Information field on the Form I-9 or to Section 3 as appropriate.
These provisions may be implemented by employers for 60 days from March 20, 2020, OR within three business days after the termination of the National Emergency, whichever comes first.
To reiterate, starting July 19th, organizations will have three days to inspect all documents formally. This technically means that organizations will have up until July 22nd to complete the forms. There will be no extra grace periods.
Other things to consider are how to set up your company’s verification processes. We can look at this as a checklist:
- If your company can change practices to remote working, the company should set in place authorized representatives. It should be noted that any organization should check not only USCIS requirements, but also its local state requirements to make sure it meets all compliance requirements.
- If a company cannot move entirely to remote working and will still require people to come into a physical location, the physical inspection of documents must be completed three days after the emergency expiration date.
Furthermore, if new employees have provided expired or invalid List B Documents during the COVID-19 period, you have 90 days following July 19th to get valid identification from your new hires. Here you have two options: if the documents are different, you will need to fill out a new Section 2 on a new Form I-9 and attach it to the original, or you can fill out the additional information field with the new document details. However, the DHS has advised that their best practice here is to create a new Form I-9.
Overall, all companies will have to change and adapt in response to COVID-19, and one of the challenges they are most likely to face will be their Form I-9 verifications. The deadline is quickly approaching to have all forms completed, so companies must prepare their organizations as best they can to ensure that they meet all compliance requirements.