If you’re a US employer, one of your most crucial duties is to guarantee all your employees are authorized to work in the US. Any slip-ups — even accidental — can land you in hot water if you are audited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
But if you have staff who work remotely, you’ll know how much more of a challenge it is to stay on top of Form I-9 verification and documentation requirements. Thankfully, recent changes to the procedure allow employers to complete and verify 1-9s online, making it easier for both employees and HR teams.
In this article, we’ll explain the I-9 verification process, flag up some common errors and mistakes and look at how to overcome the main challenges with remote I-9 verification, so that you can rest easy, knowing your compliance is squeaky-clean.
What is the process for verifying employees with Form I-9?
Every paid employee in the US has to complete Form I-9 to prove who they are and that they’re entitled to work in the US.
But the responsibility is not only theirs. As an employer, it’s also up to you to ensure your staff are verified. If you hire unauthorized workers, or even if you’re not on top of your I-9 record-keeping, you could find yourself liable for thousands of dollars in fines.
So it’s in your best interests to understand the process and how it’s changing.
What is an I-9 form?
Form I-9 — officially, Employment Eligibility Verification — is used by employers to certify that their employees are legally authorized to work in the United States. The I-9 consists of two main sections.
In Section 1, your new employee provides their personal details and their residency and employment status in the US. They need to specify whether they are:
- a US citizen,
- a US non-citizen national,
- a lawful permanent resident or
- an alien authorized to work in the US.
In Section 2, they provide and verify supporting documentation that proves:
- their identification
- their eligibility to work in the US
In the past, employees had to complete I-9 verification on paper and in person. The Covid-19 pandemic changed all that, and a temporary remote I-9 option was put in place.
Now that remote working is a part of life, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has made that remote option permanently available, with a new alternative procedure launched on August 1, 2023.
Later in this article, we’ll spell out the benefits and challenges of remote I-9 verification. But first, let’s look at the risks of making mistakes on Form I-9, and how to avoid them.
What if I make a mistake on an I-9?
Mistakes — even honest ones — can be seriously costly. The penalties for I-9 non-compliance can run to the thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars. And that’s for each individual!
So it’s a good idea to get up to speed on what to watch out for. Here are the implications of different levels of errors in completing an I-9.
- Trivial mistakes and oversights, such as a missing address or date, can be rectified within 10 days of submission.
- For paper forms, employees should draw a line through the error, add the correct information, and initial and date the correction.
- For electronic I-9 forms, an audit trail should reflect any corrections and additions.
- Inadvertent technical mistakes that are more significant, like a missing signature or filing after the deadline, can land you with fines of up to $2,507 per submission.
- Deliberate errors, such as knowingly hiring an employee who is not eligible, can cost you anywhere between $590 and $25,076.
In other words, it’s wise to ensure your employees’ I-9s are accurate.
Five common I-9 mistakes and how to avoid them
Let’s assume you have no intention of deliberately violating labor laws, and focus on how you can avoid the penalties caused by error and carelessness.
Here are five mistakes companies can easily make, and the remedies to ensure you avoid them.
1. Data entry errors
As we’ve seen, some data entry mistakes can be more costly than others. It’s vital that all the data — legal names and addresses, social security numbers, signatures, and so on — are present and correct.
Remedy: Double-check all data before submission, initial and date any corrections on the I-9 form. Update your onboarding checklist to make I-9 checks a standard part of your procedures.
You can also use digital verification software like WorkBright’s Smart I-9 software. Smart I-9 guides employees through Section 1, with compliance and accuracy checks at every step, and lets them nominate a third party to help review their work authorization documents in Section 2.
2. Neglecting to store copies of I-9 documentation
If you haven’t made copies of I-9 documentation, you could find yourself without a defense if an ICE audit calls an employee’s eligibility into question.
In fact, if you use E-Verify or are based in certain states, you may be obligated to retain I-9 copies.
Remedy: Retain ID and eligibility copies for all your employees — after verifying that they are valid and legitimate. Store documentation securely to respect employee privacy and comply with DHS’ security best practices for Personal Identifying Information.
WorkBright’s secure Smart I-9 lets you scan and upload work authorization documents to be stored with top-tier, bank-grade security.
3. Accepting unacceptable documents
If an ICE audit discovers your employee submitted invalid or fraudulent documents with their I-9, you don’t have the defense of claiming you didn’t know. If your employee is caught out, you are liable too. As an employer, you have a duty to verify the validity of the ID of your employees’ documentation.
Remedy: Familiarize yourself and your employees with the revised Lists A, B and C of acceptable documentation.
Use E-Verify to show if you have used the remote alternate procedure to examine Form I‑9 documents.
With WorkBright’s Smart I-9, employees can elect a third party to help review their authorization documents, and maintain a clear audit trail.
4. Not conducting an internal I-9 audit
I-9 forms are not something that you submit to the government. Rather, you need to have them no hand in case of an audit — or raid — by the Immigration Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). It’s vital to always be prepared and have everything in order, so you don’t have any nasty surprises.
Remedy: Conduct regular internal audits of your I-9 forms and documentation.
Use WorkBright’s Smart I-9 software, so that you have an automatic audit trail to guarantee compliance, and advanced reporting to flag up expiring documents to update.
5. Not training staff on I-9 compliance
If your HR staff are not fully tuned in on how to handle all the issues with I-9s, vital data can get missed, errors can be made and you can find yourself with unwitting violations on your hands.
Remedy: Train all your employees on how to prepare and complete I-9s, how to verify I-9 forms remotely, how to conduct internal audits. Also check that your HR team is familiar with how to store I-9s.
How remote I-9 verification changes the process
Now that the option of online I-9 validation has been made permanent, your remote and hybrid workers don’t have to go to the trouble of verifying their I-9 form documents in-person.
Employees can fill in the form online and a new “alternative procedure” for examining documents allows documents to be reviewed remotely — by video, scanning, or by nominating a qualified third party to digitally double-check.
But for all the great advantages remote I-9 verification offers, it does come with its own challenges. Let’s answer some key questions:
Is my business eligible to verify I-9 forms electronically?
Not all employers can use the alternative procedure. To do so, your company must be an E-Verify participant “in good standing”. In other words, you must:
- enroll in E-Verify for all of your US hiring sites
- complete an E-Verify tutorial if you have not used it before
- use E-Verify for all your US-based new hires
- comply with all E-Verify regulations
Find out more about E-Verify.
How do you handle I-9 verification for remote employees?
The easiest and most secure way to handle I-9 verification for remote employees is to use dedicated I-9 software such as WorkBright’s Smart I-9 as part of your onboarding procedure. Here’s how — and crucially, when — you need to complete Sections 1 and 2 of Form I-9.
Section 1: Employee data
This must be completed fully on or before the employee’s first day on the job. The employee inputs their data and declares that the information is accurate. As the employer, you must also double-check that the employee has completed the form correctly.
Section 2: Identification and eligibility documents
New employees need to submit and verify supporting documentation that proves who they are and that they can legally work in the US. They can provide either:
- One document from List A of acceptable documentation (e.g. a valid passport or green card); or
- One document from List B (e.g. driver’s license) together with one document from List C (e.g. social security card)
See our handy guide to verifying your remote employees with WorkBright for an in-depth assist on the subject.
What is an authorized representative for I-9?
For remote I-9 verification, you can authorize any person (except the employee themselves, of course) to act as a second pair of eyes to review Section 2 on your behalf. Their responsibilities include examining and certifying that the documents are valid and genuine.
WorkBright’s Smart I-9 uses the mobile devices of the employee and the authorized representative to make this process simple.
Our unique geo-location software ensures the employee and the rep are in the same location to review the documents, and the Smart I-9 app lets the representative verify the documents easily. An automatic audit trail guarantees accountability, should your company be subject to an I-9 audit.
What is the three-day rule for I-9?
The three-day rule stipulates that Section 2 of the I-9 must be completed and the acceptable documentation verified as authentic within three business days of each employee’s first day on the job.
What if an employee cannot provide I-9 documents in time?
New employees who cannot produce the required documents from Lists A, B and C within three business days of their start date can provide a receipt for replacement documents they have applied for.
They then have 90 days from their start date to produce the actual documentation. If they aren’t able to provide a receipt within three business days, they will have to terminate their employment.
How WorkBright’s Smart I-9 protects you from fines
At WorkBright, we’ve consulted with leading I-9 attorneys with expertise in immigration law to ensure our Smart I-9 tool is in line with DHS’s specifications for remote employee verification.
Our goal is to provide complete security with a traceable audit trail for added peace of mind. To date, we have processed more than 1.5 million I-9s successfully.
Here’s how Smart I-9’s features keep your verification process compliant, accurate and error-free:
- The mobile-enabled I-9 wizard simplifies and streamlines the process for your employees, and making it easier to complete the I-9 accurately and on time
- Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and auto-fill technology highlights and corrects potential errors before submission, cutting down on inadvertent errors
- Advanced reporting tools help you track expiring documentation in time, so that you can ensure you and your employees remain compliant.
- New employees can nominate a third party (such as a friend or family member) to countersign Section 2, so that their documents can be verified without needing a notary or an office visit.
- Geo-validation confirms that the employee and their authorized rep are together reviewing the documents, and backs it up with an audit trail of IP addresses, times, and location, so that you are audit-proofed.
- Smart I-9 offers seamless integration with E-Verify, giving an initial verification report within seconds and within the WorkBright platform.
Now that remote I-9 verification is here to stay, it’s easier than ever to make sure all your new remote and in-house employees are authorized — and to be able to prove it should ICE come calling.
Combining effective remote I-9 verification strategies with WorkBright’s Smart I-9 software, you and your employees can easily stay compliant wherever you are.
To learn more about how WorkBright can improve your onboarding with Smart I-9 and E-Verify, book a demo.
Can an employee complete Form I-9 before the start date?
In short, yes. You or your employee can complete Form I-9 before they start working. It can lift some of the administrative burden of that first day and alleviate the pressure of the short turnaround time.
However, it’s not without risks. If any of the details — such as the employee’s name, start date or employment eligibility — change in the meantime, it could leave you vulnerable to violations. Best practice would be to complete the I-9 as close to the start date as possible, so that it is as accurate and up-to-date as possible.
What are Supplements A and B?
In addition to Sections 1 and 2, Form I-9 includes two Supplements, A and B.
- Supplement A is to be filled out by any preparer or translator who supports an employee to complete section 1.
- Supplement B is used to reverify documentation that is no longer valid, renew the I-9 of a rehired employee (within 3 years) or note if an employee has changed their name legally
How do I update my employees’ I-9?
If you do have to modify or update certain details, you can do this in Supplement B of Form I-9. You should update the I-9 if your employee has:
- legally changed their name
- been rehired within 3 years of completing their original I-9 or
- renewed expired employment authorization or documentation