How To Stay I-9 Compliant During Pandemic Related Closures

Employers that are hiring in the midst of these uncertain times are struggling with how to stay I-9 compliant during pandemic related closures. Many of these closures are affecting the validity of employee authorization documents and how employers can document special COVID-19 document extensions. By enlisting the help of a company that provides professional I-9 compliance guidance, employers may be better able to navigate the winding road ahead.

 

COVID-19 Temporary Guidelines For Hiring

As some companies continue to hire employees during these pandemic related closures, staying I-9 compliant is proving to be a challenge. To make things even more confusing there can be subtle differences on compliance rules depending on if a company’s entire workforce is working remotely or if at least some of their locations are physically open.

For companies that are entirely working remotely during the pandemic as of April 2020, there are some allowances being made for the virtual inspection of employee authorization documents through platforms such as web-based conferencing, fax, or virtual calls. To be eligible to do so, companies must do the following:

  • Have the entire workforce work remotely
  • Document the remote work policy with the Department of Homeland Security
  • Document the method of virtual inspection on the Form I-9 in sections two and three
  • Review tangible employee authorization documents in person within three days following the expiration of the end of the COVID-19 national emergency (or May 19, 2020) and then properly document this action

Companies that have at least some locations operating as normal, do not have the luxury of virtually inspecting employee authorization documents. However, they may be allowed to have a third-party act as an official authorized representative in reviewing authorization documents. Employers should note that some states may have more stringent rules on third-party designations than the national guidelines.

Whether employers are working remotely or have some physical locations open, it is crucial that they frequently check on government policy during this time of unprecedented change.

 

DMV Closures Affecting Employees Completing I-9 Forms

In this time of national business closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, many states have Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that are either closed or offering only limited services.

Unfortunately, this can have an unwelcome trickledown effect on employees attempting to successfully complete a Form I-9 for their employer. The primary problem with limited or no DMV services is that employees may have no other choice but to use an expired driver’s license as a form of identification on an I-9.

To help combat this issue, some states are extending the expiration date of state IDs and/or driver’s licenses.  While helpful, this presents a challenge for employers on how to document this unusual and temporary extension. The following steps may be helpful in this case:

  1. For employees with a driver’s license or state ID that is expired on or after March 1, 2020 in a state that has extended document expiration dates due to COVID-19, these forms of identification may still be acceptable as a List B document.
  2. To protect against I-9 violations, employers must document the acceptance of these documents in Section 2 of the form and enter the term COVID-19 EXT in the Additional Information Field.
  3. For added protection, employers should attach a copy of the DMV’s webpage or other supporting documentation as proof of the document extension.

Employers should check their state’s Motor Vehicle Administration or Department of Motor Vehicle’s website to confirm if they have or have not auto-extended the expiration date of driver’s licenses and state IDs.

 

How DMV Closures or Limited Services May Affect the E-Verify Process

Some companies either voluntarily or by mandate use the federal E-verify system to complement the Form I-9 process. Expired driver’s licenses and state IDs can cause some issues with E-verify as well.

In the case that an employee has an expired driver’s license or state ID that is eligible for an extended expiration date in their state due to COVID-19, employers should enter the actual expiration date of the employee’s document for E-verify purposes.

That said, the coronavirus crisis is causing many standard procedures to be reevaluated on an almost daily basis. Employers should check E-verify’s website daily for frequently asked questions to ensure proper procedure is being followed.

 

How Professional I-9 Compliance Guidance May Be Helpful

Learning how to stay I-9 compliant during pandemic related closures is just one of many issues that employers currently have on their plates, and it is overwhelming for many. Employers may want to consider enlisting the help of a company who specializes in professional I-9 compliance to assist with lightening their load and helping them stay on top of COVID-19 related compliance issues.

Lookout Services has provided I-9 guidance to employers for more than twenty years and offers digital I-9 compliance software that features the following:

  • A digital solution for I-9 compliance
  • Printable checklists for employees and employers to help keep everyone on task for completing the Form I-9 in advance of section deadlines
  • Time sensitive alerts for employers regarding impending deadlines
  • Minimization of frequently made Form I-9 errors such as incomplete fields, blank fields, and missing signatures
  • Document tracking
  • Document archiving assistance

 

Let Lookout Services assist you in learning how to stay I-9 compliant during pandemic related closures.  Call us to set up a virtual consultation today.

What Documents Are Required for Properly Filling out An I-9 Form?

Businesses nationwide are responsible for verifying each employees’ eligibility to work in the United States. While the concept is simple, the steps to being I9 compliant can be more complex. If a company hopes to be compliant with federal law, it is their duty to familiarize themselves with the Form I-9 procedure and the documents required for the I-9.

What is the Form I-9?

I9 ComplianceSince the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, the law requires that employers and employees complete the Form I-9. This legal document of just one page consists of three main sections, each with its own deadlines.

Section 1:  Employees must fill out this section by the first day of employment. Employees must accurately and truthfully complete this section, or they can be charged with perjury. Employers should look over the final version of this section to make sure it is complete in its entirety without any blank fields or missing signatures.

Section 2:  This section of the Form I-9 requires that employees provide employers with one or more forms of identification to prove the employee’s eligibility to work in the United States of America. Once these forms of identification are supplied to the company, employers must verify the employee’s work eligibility by authenticating these same documents required for the I-9 within three days of an employee’s start date.

Section 3:  This last part of the form is generally completed by employers only if an employee’s work authorization expires, the employee has a legal name change, or if the employee is rehired within three years of the original date listed on the Form I-9.

When to Retain a Copy of I-9 Support Documents

It may seem like good sense to make and retain copies of important documents that the federal government requires a business to review, but when to retain a copy of I-9 related documents is a tricky question that can quickly send a business afoul of the law if the business isn’t paying close attention.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has more than quadrupled worksite enforcement investigations in the last year. With the increased enforcement efforts, this is a great time for U.S. businesses to reevaluate the company’s procedures to ensure that it remains in full I-9 compliance. Depending on how the business operates, keeping copies of I-9 supporting documentation may be the right answer – if it is done the right way.  Otherwise, optional document retention could create more problems than are solved.

ICE Raid in Mississippi

Consequences of Non-Compliance

If a company is found to be non-compliant for the Form I-9 process, consequences can vary. However, it is worth noting that violations are issued on each case of non-compliance that is found. If a business has multiple employees that are found to be non-compliant, the penalties can stack up quickly and produce devastating effects.

Criminal violations can be issued to companies with documented patterns of recruiting, hiring, or referring employees not eligible to work in the U.S.  Civil violations tend to deal with hiring or continuing to hire an unauthorized alien, committing document abuse or fraud, discrimination, and more offenses.

Depending on the number of violations and the penalties that they carry, consequences could result in heavy fines, a loss of workforce, or possibly even the loss of a business license. Each of these situations can negatively impact a company’s bottom line and overall morale.

Avoid Ice Raid Be I-9 Compliant
While many American businesses are being extra diligent in an effort to stay Form I-9 compliant, a recent ICE raid in Mississippi has many companies doubling down on those efforts with a renewed sense of urgency.

What Employers Need To Know About I-9 Audits & Work-Site Investigation

With a stronger push for immigration laws to be strictly enforced, American businesses are quickly learning the importance of being Form I-9 compliant. In the last few years, the nation has seen the number of government investigations into I-9 compliance almost quadruple. While a company may not be able to escape a government audit, it can be proactive in ensuring its I-9 compliancy.

The Form I-9 and the Importance of Compliance

The Form I-9 is a legal document that employers in the United States must have their employees complete to determine their eligibility to work in the country. The form is a one-page document that consists of three main sections:

  • Section 1: Employees are responsible for accurately completing this section of the Form I-9 by their first day of employment.
  • Section 2: Employers are responsible for collecting and authenticating required I-9 documents from employees to verify their eligibility for employment within three days of their start date.
  • Section 3: Employers will need to complete this section in the case that an employee’s work authorization expires, their name is legally changed, or they are rehired within three years of the date listed on the Form I-9.

In order for companies to be compliant, each employee’s Form I-9 must be completely filled out and accurate, the required identification documents be acceptable, and timelines and guidelines of all three sections must be observed. While it may sound like a fairly simple process, it can be quite complex and often requires the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Handbook for Employers M-274.  Many companies are also choosing to enlist the help of digital I-9 compliance software as an extra layer of protection and to help streamline the process.

For employers who have a large number of employees and in multiple locations, the process of becoming I-9 compliant becomes even more difficult. One of the primary issues is storage. All forms must be stored properly and be accessible to management and the government in the case of an audit.

While there are many reasons companies need to be I-9 compliant, the primary reason is because it is the law via the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. When a company is found not to be in compliance with Form I-9 protocol, it could be putting its entire operation at risk. It is not uncommon for companies to be issued civil or sometimes criminal penalties for these violations, all of which can result in hefty fines that can impact a company’s bottom line.

However, by understanding what it means to be I-9 compliant, why it is important, and what to expect if your company is audited by the government, you can ensure your company is adequately prepared.

What happens during an ICE worksite investigation or audit?

In the event of an ICE audit, a Notice of Inspection (NOI) is typically provided to an employer. Legally, the employer has three days to provide the agency with its I-9 forms and other forms of documentation such as a business’ Articles of Incorporation, licenses, list of current employees, and even a copy of the payroll.

After the proper forms and documentation have been presented to the government agency, the agency conducts an inspection of the I-9 forms. While it is possible for the agency to grant the company ten days to make appropriate corrections for technical or procedural violations, the company could still be fined for mistakes. These financial penalties can range from several hundred to more than a thousand dollars per violation.

Fines are commonly issued in the case of a criminal violation, which may include a company’s documented pattern of using fee-based recruiting, hiring, or referrals of employees unauthorized to work in the U.S. Unfortunately, punishment can extend beyond fines and may result in debarment by ICE, which can prevent the company from being considered for federal contracts and receiving certain government benefits.

Common Results of an I-9 Worksite Investigation

Once ICE has completed reviewing the I-9 forms and documents, it typically notifies the party that was audited in writing of the outcome. Here are several more common types of notifications and what they mean.

  • Notice of Inspection (NOI) Results: A result by this name generally comes in the form of a letter to the audited party to let the representatives know that the company was found to be compliant. This document can also be referred to as a compliance letter.
  • Notice of Discrepancies: This result lets an employer know that there was some difficulty determining an employee(s)’ work eligibility based on the paperwork submitted by the employer. The employer is then expected to share that notice with the employee so it can present additional documentation, if available, to establish eligibility to work.
  • Notice of Suspect Documents: An audit result by this name is a step down from the previous two results. This type of notification lets the audited party know that ICE has found an employee that is unauthorized to work, and that civil and criminal penalties could ensue. That said, ICE generally gives both the employee and employer a chance to present additional documentation that proves the employee’s eligibility to work if the audited party or employee deem the finding to be an error.
  • Warning Notice: This audit result can mean that some substantive verification violations were found, but may not warrant a fine due to the expectation of an employer’s future compliance.
  • Notice of Technical or Procedural Failures: This notification makes an employer aware of technical violations that were found. The employer then has ten business days to correct the forms with uncorrected technical and procedural failures being subject to fines.
  • Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF): This type of notification generally equals dollar signs. A notice of intent to fine can mean that an employer may be issued a fine due to violations related to substantive, uncorrected technical errors, knowingly hiring, and continuing employment of unauthorized workers.

How Digital I-9 Compliancy Software Can Help

Digital I-9 compliance software is quickly becoming the wave of the future. Companies are turning to this resource to help them stay I-9 compliant. In general, the software helps minimize human error and provides timely reminders for action items employers must complete to stay compliant.

Compliancy software provides employers and employees with a basic checklist of information needed to complete the Form I-9. This helps employees prepare ahead of time and gives employers a visual reminder of what is completed and what still needs attention.

One of the most user-friendly features of compliance software is the alerts. The program should catch blank or incomplete fields and missing signatures. Any of these things could cause a company to be found non-compliant, but the software program helps to find these inconsistencies and draw an employer’s attention to them before submitting the form. The program should also assist in tracking expired Form I-9 documents, so employers are able to work with the employee to attain updated documents before they become a compliancy issue.

Another benefit of implementing I-9 compliancy software is that it offers document archiving and centralized reporting. Less paper is required when forms and required documents are digitized, and it also helps the program track which forms need to be retained and which do not. Centralized reporting allows employers to provide requested I-9 information quickly and efficiently in the case of government audits. As an added bonus, centralized reporting can be utilized at any point by management, which can help them stay proactive about their company’s I-9 protocol.

With thorough understanding of the Form I-9, its guidelines and regulations, and possibly the assistance of digital I-9 compliancy software, employers can have more peace of mind about being proactive and keeping the company in good standing with the government.

Is E-Verify a Background Check?

Courtesy of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, businesses nationwide are required to both verify and authenticate their employees’ legal eligibility to work in America. The legally required document which helps verify an employee’s eligibility to work is the Form I-9. An often-required complement to the Form I-9 is the E-Verify system. While both components deal with the legality of work eligibility, neither the Form I-9 nor E-Verify constitutes a criminal background check.

The Form I-9 is a legal document provided by the government that must be completed by both employers and employees within the proper timelines stated on the form. The form gathers important personal information from the employee regarding work eligibility, requires employers to verify identification documents provided by the employee, and handles proper documentation for eligibility follow up and rehires. The Form I-9 cannot be utilized to perform a background check.

E-Verify is, in some cases, an optional add-on service that complements the Form I-9. The system allows enrolled employers to match employees’ Form I-9 information against records accessible by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. E-Verify is not to be used for a background check as it only verifies work eligibility and does not review a potential employee’s criminal history.

A company that requires its employees to have a legal work eligibility status and a background check should be Form I-9 compliant, consider utilizing E-Verify, and do a thorough background check or hire an employment screening service.

E-Verify Expansion in Iowa to Come?

Everyone is talking about immigration policy these days, but another debate is taking place among Iowa lawmakers considering mandating E-Verify for all businesses. While immigration law remains exclusively in the hands of Congress by virtue of the Constitution, a few avenues exist for states to contribute to the discussion in a roundabout way. Several states have weighed in by requiring some or all businesses to use the E-Verify system to validate the work eligibility of new employees. Iowa is the latest state to consider the measure.

Worksite Enforcement of I-9 Laws

With immigration continuing to be a focus in the U.S., worksite enforcement of I-9 laws is something business owners should pay attention to. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have ramped up scrutiny of Employment Eligibility Verification form (I-9) procedures, and the results have been eye-opening. In a single year, ICE has more than quadrupled the number of investigations:

280 Arrests in Allen, Texas, the Latest Lesson in I-9 Compliance

Immigration officials executed the largest workplace raid in more than a decade on a north Texas electronics repair business in early April, resulting in criminal charges against CVE Technology Group and more than 280 employees. The operation in Allen, Texas is the latest headline-grabbing component of immigration enforcement and is yet another signal to businesses to either align with the federal government’s culture of full I-9 compliance or suffer the consequences. In this case, the consequences may include jail time and fines for company officials and deportation for its undocumented workers.

Evolution of US Immigration Policy and the Form I9

A Reminder of Why We Do What We Do

It’s easy to fall into a mode of merely complying with the details of the regulations that shape the slices of the world we inhabit, but a look at how the I-9 culture evolved can remind us that it isn’t just busy work the government imposes upon us. Government is by habit and nature reactive, so the current version of the Employment Eligibility Verification form (I-9) is the latest iteration resulting from a series of events leading up to a form that serves an interest. Understanding its history can be instructive in showing us that collection and maintenance of this data is an expression of modern societal values, regardless of whether they are right or wrong.

A Little History On The I-9 Form

The founding fathers of the United States promoted a policy of open immigration, inviting all to our shores to seek their fortunes. The restrictions in those early days were placed on naturalization—you could come here to work, but you couldn’t vote or hold office unless you became a citizen. This was the general attitude until after the Civil War, and today, an enduring legacy of that policy is the Constitution’s requirement that a president must be born in the U.S.

In 1921, Congress developed the National Origins Formula which used the numbers of foreign-born residents from the 1910 census to establish proportional quotas by country for future immigration. The reference census shifted over the years to support the values of the day, but immigration was essentially frozen during the Depression. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 mainly changed the quotas yet again, but the 1965 amendments to that law abolished the national origins system altogether and focused priorities instead on immigrants with skills our workforce needed.

1986 brought us to the foundation of current policy with the bipartisan passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act which, for the first time, created penalties for knowingly hiring undocumented workers. The idea was to preserve the American tradition of legal immigration while putting a stop to the illegal variety. The fear of terrorism generated legislation in 1996 that would vastly increase the number of deportations for criminal activity, and then 9/11 happened, perpetrated by 20 foreign terrorists who had entered the country legally.

The attacks altered the thinking in a lot of areas, but Congress has yet to agree on a path to immigration reform. Instead, it created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to, in part, oversee immigration through three newly formed agencies: US Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS is responsible for documenting alien employment authorization (the I-9) and running the E-Verify program, while ICE is responsible for enforcing I-9 compliance. Other divisions within DHS are meant to ensure that these provisions are not applied by businesses or the government in a discriminatory manner.

The introduction and reintroductions of the DREAM Act over time have, however, produced an unofficial consensus that undocumented immigrants who graduate from American high schools and attend college or join the military should be granted a path to citizenship. President Obama bolstered this value with executive orders effectively delaying the deportation of such people.

Immigrant visas are still limited, but immigrants generally become eligible for citizenship after five years of legal residence unless they were admitted through temporary work permit or student visa, neither of which provides a path to citizenship. Illegal immigration peaked at over one million in 2000 but is thought to have declined by half by 2009.

So Where Does that Leave Us?

Employment in the US is considered the magnet that draws illegal immigrants, so the theory is that they will not come if they cannot work. Employer sanctions are therefore designed to make cheaper labor less attractive than compliance. This paradigm forms the basis for the regulatory plan that resulted in the I-9. By making employers liable for hiring undocumented workers, fear of punishment for noncompliance is what prevents these workers from attaining the financial means to remain in this country, and, the government hopes, deters others from entering illegally.

The I-9 form requires the employer to scrutinize the prospective employee’s identity papers. Employers need to check for two things: (1) to verify that this person reasonably appears to be who he or she purports to be and (2) to confirm that he or she can document an immigration or citizenship status that permits eligibility to work in the United States. By requiring that employers do so within three days, the government is ensuring that employers do not let this step fall through the cracks. By requiring a signature, the government is encouraging employers to be thorough in their examination of the presented documents and honest in their assessment under threat of perjury charges. By requiring employers to retain a form containing unexpired documentation for each employee, the government is holding them accountable for ongoing verification that the employee remains eligible to work in the U.S. Employers are, therefore, on the frontlines of executing this policy.

Regardless of an employer’s position on the various issues that make up immigration policy, ICE’s surge in enforcement actions and promise to expand them even further is the reality. The current administration continues to commit unprecedented amounts of resources to enforce existing immigration and employment laws. This means that the government is watching employers closely and won’t hesitate to investigate for any reason. If ever there were a good time to reevaluate I-9 compliance procedures so a business can survive an audit unscathed, it is now.