Is an End to Remote I-9 Document Inspection Coming?
In 1986, the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) was amended to require all employers to verify the employment eligibility of all newly hired workers. The regulations interpreting the INA require employers to physically inspect the documents employees present as evidence of employment authorization.
On March 20, 2020, ICE suspended the physical inspection requirement. The requirement was suspended to accommodate employers facing COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and the proliferation of remote work. ICE permitted employers to inspect I-9 documents over video link, fax, or email, and obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents within three business days of hire. In its announcement, ICE warned that these changes were to be temporary. ICE advised that at the conclusion of the pandemic, employers would be required to physically inspect the employment eligibility documents for all employees hired under remote inspection. ICE threatened that employers that did not physically inspect employment eligibility documents within three days after the expiration date of the temporary rule change would face fines and other penalties.
ICE has extended the expiration date of the remote verification rule change several times. Most recently, on October 11, 2022, ICE extended the pandemic accommodation until July 31, 2023. However, in the press release announcing the extension, ICE hints that this may be the last extension. The press release states:
“Employers are encouraged to begin, at their discretion, the in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for employees who were hired on or after March 20, 2020, and who presented such documents for remote inspection in reliance on the flexibilities first announced in March 2020.”
While it would seem that commencing in-person I-9 document verification now would be prudent, any employer contemplating taking such an action should consult counsel and tread very carefully. Employers have no authority to demand the production of I-9 documents while the accommodation is in place. Employees may greet such a request with hostility, see it as a threat to their continued employment, or assert that it creates some kind of illegal harassment or discrimination.
Any communication with employees requesting physical documents while the pandemic I-9 document accommodation is in place should be vetted by a competent employment attorney. Any request should clearly state that participation is voluntary and that no adverse action will be taken against an employee who does not comply.
While one might hope that ICE would see the changes brought by the pandemic as an opportunity to drag the I-9 document verification system into the 21st Century and solidify the permanence of remote I-9 document verification, employers should start thinking about and planning for the end of the pandemic whether that takes place on July 31, 2023 or some future date.