The concept of a remote workforce shifted dramatically starting in March 2020, and for some companies that shift went from 20% to 80% virtually overnight. Many businesses have found great benefits, including increased talent retention, in maintaining a virtual work arrangement. However, there continues to be much debate on the health and well-being of employees who are utilizing telecommuting (isolation impact) as well as the productivity of the workforce. Many are watching closely to determine the long-term impact of remote work on employers and trying to evaluate if this trend will continue in the future. Perhaps the most striking part about this trend is that employers have had to make significant technological adjustments in the new hire onboarding process, ensuring an excellent, inclusive new hire experience and seamlessly addresses all compliance requirements such as the Form I-9 completion for remote personnel.

Guidelines for Processing Form I-9s for Remote Personnel

Thanks to the pandemic, new temporary guidelines for processing new hire Form I-9s for remote personnel became essential and rules were implemented in March of 2020 providing the needed flexibilities for work-from-home arrangements that ensued. However, as the world began returning to a more regular rhythm in October of 2022, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed that they were again extending Form I-9 remote verification flexibilities, this time through July 31, 2023. That deadline was later extended to August 30, 2023 with no expectation for further extension.

While the temporary COVID flexibility has concluded, employers are once again required to physically inspect employee I-9 documents (or may designate an authorized representative to perform the tasks on the employer’s behalf) for all employees who were hired on or after March 20, 2020 and had their I-9 documentation remotely examined over zoom or another type of web conference tool.

On July 25, 2023, DHS announced and published in the Federal Register an alternative procedure allowing employers who meet four specific requirements an option to choose virtual inspection of the employee’s documents in lieu of physically examining Form I-9 documentation.

To qualify for the alternative procedure, the employer must have:

  1. performed remote examination of an employee’s documents between March 20, 2020, and July 31, 2023;
  2. been enrolled in E-Verify at the time they completed the Form I-9 for that employee;
  3. created a case in E-Verify for that employee (except for reverification); and
  4. be currently enrolled in and continue to participate in E-Verify.

Employers who do not meet all four requirements must perform an in-person physical examination of documents by August 30, 2023

While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) generally will not focus a lot of resources on flagging employers for Form I-9 verification violations for failing to complete physical document examination by August 30, 2023, please be mindful of the fact that failure to comply with I-9 verification requirements may result in penalties, including civil penalties ranging from $272 to $2,701 per employee (with higher penalties for knowingly hiring an unauthorized worker) and debarment from government contracts in the future.

I-9 Technology That Will Support the On-Going Remote Trend

What next after COVID Flexibilities?  The good news is on August 1, 2023 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Homeland Security announced both the release of a new Form I-9 and the continuation of remote document examination for employers who have remote workers and are enrolled in E-Verify across all of their business locations. Employers not enrolled in E-Verify will resume physical inspection processes.

For human resources departments and management tasked with hiring remote employees, it is often overwhelming to keep up with the most current guidelines. This is where the right I-9 intelligence software company can help automate the process flow, along with keeping your business in compliance. An I-9 service provider with technical experts can coach and alert employers of any I-9 and E-Verify regulation changes.

Having a seasoned and experienced compliance partner can be an asset for companies and workplaces that are currently remote. These professionals are uniquely positioned to make hiring teams aware of the steps they need to take in the processing of remote Form I-9s as well as the steps they will need to take when employees return in person to the workplace. Together, both the company and provider can work toward achieving compliance regardless of the ever-changing landscape of the Form I-9 process.