Buried within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website is seemingly recent guidance regarding how to update “virtual” Forms I-9 after companies return to “normal business operations.” While it’s unclear when the guidance was actually published, we have been predicting an update to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-9 Examples Related to Temporary COVID-19 Policies released in late June and further updated on July 27. So the fact that this guidance is now appearing comes as no surprise.
By way of background, on March 20, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced interim guidelines to temporarily ease I-9 compliance for employers operating remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. ICE has since issued several extensions to the “virtual” guidance, with the latest one currently set to expire on November 19. Under this guidance, employers are authorized to complete the Section 2 verification or Section 3 re-verification process remotely, relaxing the USCIS Form I-9 instructions mandating an in-person review of work eligibility and identification documents. ICE expects the worksite to be 100% remote to utilize the relaxed guidance. This exception, therefore, is not available when employees are physically present at an employer’s work location.
As we have discussed in prior blog postings, virtual I-9 completion is a “two-touch” process. Physical inspection must take place within three business days after normal operations resume. While “normal operations” have not yet been defined by the government, we expect that individual companies – not the government – will define the resumption of “normal operations.” Accordingly, we continue to recommend that businesses memorialize decisions, including “phase-ins” and other timelines, individual employee anomalies, and any related protocols adopted relating to the timing of returning to work.