Since November 6, 1986, the I-9 document review forms have been a part of every onboarding process. It’s not exactly the most exciting part of a newly hired employee’s first impression of the organization; but, it’s as American as registering to vote or waiting in line to get your driver’s permit – not thrilling in its own right, but it’s the first step towards something awesome!
But this article isn’t about the pros and cons of the process; instead, it’s about the prospect of if/when this process might be brought more into the 21st century.
Background Context: COVID-19
If employers were asked to think of what happened to different organizations due to COVID-19, many of us would likely think of a long list of negative consequences that came about during/from the pandemic… and rightly so. Organizations faced numerous challenges throughout 2020 and beyond. The I-9 documentation review process, for example, had to change since employees could no longer meet in person. On March 20, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it would not require a physical examination of the required I-9 documents, and employers could instead complete this process using email, fax, video, etc.
This option was only allowed for organizations that could no longer host their employees in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If an organization still required employees to come to work in person (i.e.: hospitals, fire departments, etc.), then those organizations were not allowed to take advantage of this flexible option. It also had a provision that, once an organization returns to in-person work, it must verify the I-9 documentation in person within three business days. ICE has continued to extend this flexibility since March 2020, but that flexibility ends on the last day of this month (October 31, 2022) and there have been no signs of another extension at this point.
What started as a temporary accommodation for the pandemic, ended up becoming a huge convenience for many employers and employees. This is true for many aspects of employment, such as remote work from home. Many employers have continued those “temporary” arrangements to this day, despite the vast majority of in-person restrictions being lifted. Unfortunately, the flexible arrangement for submitting I-9 documentation was only to be used if the reason was specifically, COVID-19-related. While many employers wanted to keep this convenient method of I-9 document review, it’s not within their control to decide to do so.
Fortunately, many organizations found their voice as they spoke out to try and keep a more virtual I-9 review process; and, although ICE has not changed any of the requirements as of yet, they appear to be listening to those cries. In fact, they are even asking for more feedback!
While it might seem like an easy thing for ICE to continue allowing flexible options for the I-9 process, there are many considerations to get right. Namely, how to prevent fraud and/or discrimination from seeping their way into the new hire process. Obviously, these are two very important considerations to get right, but it sounds like ICE is beginning the process of brainstorming how the virtual I-9 document review might be rolled out in such a way that would allow all stakeholders to begin heading toward the path of the 21st century!
As with all challenges, there is always an opportunity for growth; and, COVID-19 is no exception. The I-9 process went through some dramatic changes when the pandemic first hit and only now are those initial changes coming to an end. However, that experience will forever change the way we look at what’s possible. ICE is currently taking feedback and thinking through all considerations for how to roll out a virtual I-9 process. It’s entirely likely that we will hear an update before the end of 2022, and perhaps even see changes in the not-too-distant future.
Who knows, maybe the next time when employers are trying to have a great first impression with a new hire, the I-9 document review process will no longer be as cumbersome and time-consuming, but will instead be as American as a fast-food line.
For additional information regarding the I-9 document review or the onboarding process in general, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.
Updated by: Jason Love, CLSSGB