Have you started your “COVID I-9 Form” verifications yet?

By Michelina Covey

“Be sure bring 1 acceptable form of ID from column A or 2 acceptable forms of ID, 1 from both column B and column C, which can be found on the back of the I-9, with you on your first day.”  Sound familiar?

The I-9 Form has been a required part of the employment process for all new hires after November 6, 1986.  The I-9 allows employers to not only verify an individual’s identity but also their eligibility to work in the US through acceptable documentation outlined by the government.  Although there have been minimal form updates through the years, the I-9 Form completion process has essentially remained the same except for during the COVID pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, employers were required to verify the documents presented by the employee in person.  However, with the change in work arrangements and let’s face it, a national shutdown, this proved to be challenging for many.  Employers still had businesses to run and hire employees to continue moving the business forward.  As a result, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allowed for temporary virtual flexibility in completing the I-9 form and verifying the employee documentation.

As we’re starting to make our way back to life the way we once knew it, I-9s are no exception.  On May 4, 2023, USCIS announced that the COVID-19 flexibilities for the I-9 Form will expire on July 31, 2023.   Additionally, the announcement also clarified that employers have until      August 30, 2023 to complete all the physical inspections of identity and employment eligibility documents.

So what does this mean?

The eas-ier part: Starting August 1, 2023, ALL I-9’s will need to be completed and verified by employers in person just like the pre-pandemic days.  There is no exception to this.

The not so easy part: Employers will have until August 30, 2023, to perform all required physical examination(s) of identity and employment eligibility documents for those individuals hired on or after March 20, 2020, and who have only received a virtual or remote examination under the flexibilities.

In the guidance released by USCIS, once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add “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.

ALL employers, regardless of remote or in person work arrangements, will need to follow through with the verification of documents as outlined above and within the provided grace period.  Additionally, appropriate procedures will need to be put into place for the review/verification of documents going forward, if not already in place, in accordance with USCIS instruction found on page 6.

Depending on how many hires you had during that time, this could be a daunting task.   With summer and vacation season here, it is highly recommended to get the re-verification process started ASAP as August 30th will be here quicker than we know it.   If audited and violations go uncorrected, employers may be subject to civil and criminal fines which can add up quickly.

As a reminder, it is best practice to obtain the most recent form from the government website when needed, as opposed to a random storage folder with copies of an outdated, and out of compliance, form.