Your Guide to New Hire I-9s During the Coronavirus Pandemic

SVP of Marketing & Strategic Alliances

The world has changed and so have our workplaces. As HR leaders, we’re working without a guide and have had to quickly pivot many of the things we once took for granted, like mail service and obtaining copies of personal documentation including birth certificates and social security cards from new hires. The most important of these requirements is the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification.

The Form I-9 is used to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. All U.S. employers must properly complete a Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States, which includes citizens and noncitizens. Both employees and employers (or authorized representatives of the employer) must complete the form.

On the form, an employee must attest to his or her employment authorization. The employee must also present his or her employer with acceptable documents evidencing identity and employment authorization. The employer must examine the employment eligibility and identity document(s) an employee presents to determine whether the document(s) reasonably appear to be genuine and to relate to the employee and record the document information on the Form I-9. Employers must retain Form I-9 for a designated period and make it available for inspection by authorized government officers.

How the I-9 Process Has Changed During the Pandemic

Because of the challenges presented by the Coronavirus pandemic for employers and new employees, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced temporary flexibility in the requirements for completing the Form I-9 while employers are operating remotely. 

Employers with employees working remotely due to COVID-19 will not be required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence. However, employers must inspect these documents remotely (over video link, fax or email) and obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents within three business days.

DHS also has extended the time in which employers may respond to Notices of I-9 Inspection and the time in which to address certain E-Verify case responses. Some states have begun automatically extending the validity of identification cards and driver’s licenses because of COVID-19. 

For example, the state of Texas Department of State Health Services has extended the process to get a copy of a birth certificate to be 20-25 business days if completed online. As you are onboarding new hires, you do want to make them aware during the interview process as soon as possible in order to give them time to gather required documentation for their prospective first employment day. Because this extension period differs by state, be sure to check the guidelines in your state for the most accurate and up-to-date regulations.

Additionally, you will want to let new employees know that they can apply for a social security number at the same time they apply for a work permit with the DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. If USCIS approves an application to work in the U.S. and the individual completes the section on the application to request an SSN card, USCIS will send the Social Security Administration the data required to issue your SSN card (or a replacement card). 

Temporary H-2B Rule Changes for Employers During COVID-19

On May 12, the Department of Homeland Security published a temporary final rule to change certain H-2B requirements to reduce the economic impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency on H-2B employers. The temporary flexibilities are available through Sept. 11, 2020. This allows employers that have properly filed H-2B extension of stay petitions and Form ATT-H2B, Attestation for Employers Seeking to Employ H-2B Nonimmigrant Workers Essential to the U.S. Food Supply Chain (PDF) between certain dates to begin employing certain H-2B workers while USCIS adjudicates their petition. The workers must currently be in H-2B status but working for a different employer. If so, a new employer may begin employing the H-2B workers on or after the date that USCIS receives the extension of stay petition (as stated on Form I-797, Notice of Action, receipt notice) or the date USCIS acknowledges in writing receipt of Form ATT-H2B.

Streamline Form I-9s During COVID-19 with an Electronic I-9 System

Even with the new temporary changes, the Form I-9 is still a time-sensitive document that must be completed by the third business day of a remote employee’s hire date. An electronic system capable of handling I-9s for remote hires, such as PreCheck's Electronic Form I-9 and E-Verify software, can be your best solution. Using an electronic I-9 system can assist your company in maintaining compliance even when you use an authorized representative who is not familiar with I-9s. Using e-signature technology, built-in field-level validation, and integration with the E-Verify system, PreCheck streamlines electronic Form I-9 completion to facilitate E-Verify submissions through an interface with the DHS.

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought many challenges to the Form I-9 process in a remote work environment, but by taking proactive measures supported by temporary changes and utilizing electronic software to simplify the process, employers and HR departments can stay ahead of this critical part of the hiring process.