Filling out form I-9 is a standard onboarding procedure for any new hire. The new employee fills out Section 1 and provides supporting documentation of their identification and work-eligible status; then an HR professional makes copies of that documentation, completes Sections 2 and 3 (as applicable), and retains the form.
Generally speaking, it’s expected that the I-9 is completed in person, with the new hire and a HR professional exchanging physical documentation and verifying information face-to-face.
However, given the CDC’s social distancing guidance for COVID-19, that procedure obviously isn’t appropriate for this moment. In order to enable strong businesses to continue hiring and providing meaningful work for new employees, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has temporarily deferred in-person I-9 verification.
Moving forward, we’ll explore:
- Hiring/operating procedures during the current COVID-19 I-9 deferral period
- The term of the deferral
- Compliance expectations at the end of the deferral
- The value of this deferral period for businesses
Modified Procedures for COVID-19
The DHS has temporarily suspended the need for in-person I-9 verification. That means businesses can continue to hire and onboarding new employees remotely during this time without fear of non-compliance.
For now, documents pertaining to identity verification and employment eligibility can be submitted and reviewed remotely (i.e. by scanning and attaching documents to an email or submitting through an HR portal). Copies of those files should be retained in your internal HR records.
DHS’ verification deferral has also loosened up the time window for I-9 completion. Temporarily, employers have three working days to complete the paperwork and confirm documentation instead of just one day.
How Long Will This Deferral Last?
The I-9 verification deferral period will end either sixty (60) days from March 20, 2020 or three (3) days after the end of the COVID-19 national emergency has been announced, whichever comes first.
What Do We Need to Do to Comply When This is Over?
Once the deferral period ends (as described above), employers have three business days to complete standard in-person I-9 verifications for any employees they have hired and onboarded during the deferral.
Under “Additional Information” on Section 2 of form I-9, the employer must note that COVID-19 temporarily prevented them from a detailed physical review of the original documentation and provide the date they physically examined the documents. From there, the forms can be filed and retained as usual.
Why is This Deferral Good for Business?
In-person I-9 verification would prevent many businesses from filling the holes in their depth chart created by COVID-19, as employees must take leave for their own health, to care for a family member, or to supervise children. By enabling streamlined remote hiring, the DHS is providing support to businesses who are doing their best to continue the work and provide paychecks to their teams during this time.
Furthermore, remote hiring has the potential to connect great talent with jobs where they can be impactful faster than ever, fighting back record unemployment to help jumpstart the economy once again.
The Department of Homeland Security is deferring in-person I-9 verification during COVID-19-related social distancing. This is a great opportunity for businesses to fill out their teams and keep the work going without slipping into noncompliance, but it’s important to remember:
- The deferral window will end on May 19 or 3 days after the national emergency is declared to be over
- Employers still need to review digital versions of identification/eligibility documents within three days of hire
- When the deferral period ends, employers will have 3 days to complete traditional in-person I-9 verification