How The End of I-9 Flexibilities Will Affect HR Professionals

After three years of leniency during the Covid-19 pandemic, the flexibility granted to U.S. employers around I-9 compliance will end on July 31, 2023. Employers who virtually inspected identity and employment eligibility documents (such as work visas) will have to revert to in-person inspections when hiring new staff.

Public sector HR professionals need to prepare for how the end of I-9 flexibilities will affect their recruiting and onboarding processes.  

Why I-9 Flexibility Was Granted During The Pandemic

During the pandemic, many organizations embraced remote working to minimize the number of employees working in close contact. In response, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) temporarily amended the law around I-9 compliance.

Employers continued to inspect employment eligibility verification forms (Form I-9) in person when hiring employees to work at the organization’s premises. They were exempted from physically inspecting I-9 documents when hiring employees to work remotely. Instead, they could verify documents remotely, via video link, fax or email, for example.

Easing I-9 compliance requirements allowed organizations to continue hiring talent during the pandemic at a reduced health risk to both employers and employees.

The Return to Physical I-9 Document Inspection

As of July 31, 2023, these flexibilities end. Employers will go back to examining documents in the employee’s physical presence.

If an employee works remotely or in a different location, an authorized representative appointed by the organization may check the documents in the employee's presence.

For employees hired on or after March 20, 2020, who had inspections done remotely, you have until August 30, 2023, to verify their documents in person.

Moving forward, a physical inspection of I-9 documents applies to all employees, regardless of whether they are physically present at your premises, work remotely or split their time between working in-person and remotely.

What if you have employees who work in other parts of the country? Will you need to fly them to your offices for an HR representative to inspect their documents?

Fortunately, that won’t be necessary. You may appoint an authorized representative to inspect the I-9 forms of new hires located in another city or state.

An authorized representative could be an individual such as a personnel officer, foreman, line manager or notary public. Note that if authorized representatives make mistakes on I-9 forms, the Department of Homeland Security will hold your organization liable. Failing to meet I-9 compliance regulations can have serious consequences for your organization.

For example, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency conducts I-9 audits and could deport workers who do not have the correct documentation.

How HR Professionals Can Prepare For The End of I-9 Flexibilities

In the last three years, HR officials may have become comfortable with the more flexible process, which reduced their administrative burden. With the deadline of July 30 looming, HR departments have a short window to become I-9-ready.

The return to in-person I-9 inspections could result in HR professionals scrambling to catch up on a backlog of paperwork for those employees who underwent remote inspections. Especially if the organization experienced high numbers of new hires during the pandemic.

Here are three steps you can take to prepare for the return of in-person I-9 verifications.

  1. Communicate to employees that I-9 flexibilities are due to end and that employees who completed Form I-9 verification remotely will now need to do so in person.  
  2. Extract all your virtually reviewed I-9 forms. Then, schedule appointments with affected employees to verify their documents in person with an HR official or designated representative. If documents have expired by the time the in-person review occurs, employees may re-submit the same documentation. If they lost the documents or it is no longer valid, they will have to complete a new I-9 form.
  3. Review your onboarding process if you have switched to hybrid or remote working models. You may need to create more than one process for each type of employment model you have.

Key Takeaways

The temporary flexibility around I-9 compliance that employers enjoyed during the Covid-19 pandemic ends on July 31, 2023. Going forward, HR professionals must physically verify the employment eligibility documents of all new hires, whether they work in person or remotely. As a public sector organization, you must keep abreast of the latest labor laws to remain compliant and avoid penalties, which include steep fines and criminal liability.

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