The complete guide to Form I-9 Alternative Procedure

Is the I-9 alt procedure right for you?

I-9 Alternative procedure

In today’s working environment, every organization needs two key things to make their new hires’ first week a resounding success: A top-notch onboarding experience, and a seamless, compliant process for verifying employment eligibility.

But as remote work continues to grow in popularity, it’s making this new hire compliance just a little more challenging for organizations. With employees often scattered across different states or geographical borders, completing Form I-9 for each new hire and verifying their documents is a complex task. And if you don’t get it right, it could harm your new hire experience and put your organization at risk of compliance penalties.

In August 2023, the USCIS attempted to address this challenge with the I-9 alternative procedure—a new way for organizations to verify their Form I-9 remotely. But while the new process offers remote companies a way of verifying employees from afar, there are strict pre-conditions to implementing it—meaning it’s not necessarily an easier or risk-free option.

Knowing if it’s the right fit for your organization hinges on understanding your workforce setup, your hiring needs, and the eligibility requirements. In this post, we’ll walk through the pros and cons.

Understanding the I-9 alternative procedure

The Form I-9 alternative procedure is a new, virtual approach to traditional employment eligibility processes that responds to the shift towards remote working.

The process works like this: With each new hire, employees complete and submit their Form I-9 and supporting documentation electronically. Organizations then verify all of these documents virtually in a video call, validated against the physical copies presented by the employee. Once the documents are verified, employers can then complete Section 2 and submit the paperwork via E-Verify.

Alternative procedure: Key considerations

The I-9 alternative procedure is an optional process for employee verification. But it’s not as simple as just signing up—organizations must meet specific non-optional eligibility criteria before they can get started:

  • E-Verify enrollment across all hiring sites where alternative procedure will be used.
  • Organizations must be in good standing with E-Verify, and actively follow due diligence.
  • Organizations must provide training to use the E-Verify system, including how to spot fraudulent documents and comply with anti-discrimination laws.

Organizations must also be prepared to meet stringent security and record-keeping guidelines. In a traditional I-9 process, organizations may retain copies of documentation as needed. And, when organizations participate in E-Verify they are required to retain copies of only certain documents as defined by E-Verify. But when using the I-9 alternative procedure, keeping clear, legible copies of all documentation presented by employees to verify identity and work authorization—front and back—is a requirement for auditing purposes. Organizations must also have a secure repository for collecting and storing employee documents for auditing purposes—and a hard drive or email inbox aren’t going to cut it.

One big drawback to the alternative procedure approach is that it comes with the additional administrative burden of E-Verify. And once you’re in, you can’t pick and choose when you use this method versus the traditional I-9 verification method. This means that if you implement the I-9 alternative procedure at one of your hiring sites, you’re required to use it for every employee at that location—whether they’re remote or in-office. You can set up separate hiring sites for those that are fully remote vs in-office if you want to differentiate slightly, but you’ll need to be careful about discrimination in your process in the way you set these up as well as how the process is implemented. Individuals cannot be forced to participate in the virtual process. Thus, if an employee refuses, you must document this to make it clear why the alternative procedure was not used for this employee.

Comparison with the traditional I-9 process

The I-9 alternative procedure may sound similar to the traditional process—but there are some key differences between the two that organizations need to fully understand to minimize their exposure to legal and compliance risks.

With the I-9 alternative procedure, organizations have additional flexibility of where the verification procedure takes place, and don’t have the additional logistical burden of scheduling in-person verification. But if your digital infrastructure isn’t up to scratch, this could add complications to building a secure, fully compliant process—especially if your organization is audited.

Alternative procedure also adds a hidden administrative burden with its E-Verify requirement. For each new hire you bring in, your team will need to manually re-enter all of the data on their Form I-9 into the E-Verify system. Especially if you’re hiring at scale, this administrative load introduces an additional data input error risk, which could result in a hefty fine down the line.

We’ve compared and contrasted the two procedures in the table below.

An infographic comparing traditional I-9 verification procedures with alternative I-9 procedures. The left side is labeled 'Traditional I-9 procedure' and lists: Verification method as 'In person', Timeline as 'Within three days of employee starting work', Inspection method as 'Physical document examination', E-Verify participation as 'Voluntary, depending on state laws', Security risks as 'Ensure safety of physical documents', and Audit requirements as 'Standard I-9 audit requirements'. The right side is labeled 'I-9 Alternative Procedure' and lists: Verification method as 'Virtually, with both parties required to be present in a video call simultaneously', Timeline as 'Within three days of employee starting work', Inspection method as 'Documents are examined in a video call, and compared to copies sent ahead of the call', E-Verify participation as 'E-Verify required for all hiring sites using alternative procedure', Security risks as 'Ensure documents are transmitted and stored securely', and Audit requirements as 'Additional requirements for secure storage of documentation copies'. The background has a vibrant, multicolored geometric design.

Steps in the alternative procedure process

For organizations struggling to wade through the employee verification process from a distance, the Form I-9 alternative procedure could represent a welcome end to the administrative headache. But it’s not as simple as holding up a few documents on a Zoom call.

Here’s a step-by-step guide of how it works:

  1. Present employee with the alternative procedure option: Just like the traditional I-9 process, employees must have clear information as to how the process works and what to expect. Guidance from the USCIS states that employees must also have the option to opt out and present their documents in person—and organizations must comply with this request.
  2. Explain the employment eligibility verification requirements: Before you begin, you’ll need to explain the legal purpose and requirements of the process, which forms of identification and work authorization are accepted, and how you plan to store and safeguard employee information.
  3. Provide instruction page for employees: Send explicit instructions to employees that lays out the complete end-to-end process. Explain how to fill out the Form I-9 electronically which must have a “wet signature” unless a compliant electronic I-9 software program is utilized, how to upload documentation securely, what to expect in the virtual verification meeting, and timelines for how long the process usually takes, including the required government deadlines for the process.
  4. Implement the alternative procedure process: Employees must send electronic copies of their documents proving their identity and eligibility to work to the employer ahead of the video meeting.
  5. Examine employee documents remotely: In a secure video meeting, the employee and an Authorized Representative, like an attorney or a designated member of the HR team, will meet to verify the documents against the electronic copies live on the call.
  6. Ensure proper documentation and record-keeping: Once the documents are verified, the company representative on the video meeting must do their due diligence by signing and dating the form, and checking the box in the “Additional Notes” section to indicate that alternative procedure has been followed. Organizations must also make sure document copies are stored securely and correctly.
  7. Submit documents using E-Verify: All organizations using alternative procedure must be enrolled and in good standing within the E-Verify system. E-Verify users are required to complete fraud training provided by E-Verify. Once the documents have been verified, organizations can create a case for their new hire, and submit the documents for final checks through E-Verify.

Remote examination and verification

When organizations opt for alternative procedure, examining and verifying the documents is carried out during a live video meeting, in which both the new hire and a representative of the organization are present.

As part of the virtual document verification process, organizations must:

  • Invite the new hire to present their documents and verify that they match the copies sent through (securely) prior to the virtual meeting.
  • Examine the copies of documentation they have been sent—front and back—to check they appear genuine and reasonably relate to the individual presenting them during the video meeting.
  • Keep the documentation copies on file, ensuring they are clear and legible.
  • Ensure the documentation submitted is eligible to be submitted for I-9 identity and work authorization compliance purposes.

While both parties need to be present in both cases (in-person and alternative procedure), the traditional I-9 process requires direct handling and cross-checking of the documents in the moment, meaning it’s easier to verify their authenticity. Meanwhile, in the I-9 alternative procedure, organizations are reliant on checking digital copies only, and submitting documentation for further checking via E-Verify.

I-9 Alternative Procedure offers organizations one option to verify their employees in a virtual setting—but it’s not the only way to remotely verify your employees’ documentation. WorkBright’s Smart I-9 feature is a fast, secure, and 100% compliant way of completing I-9 verification completely remotely. Smart I-9 features guides employers and employees through the entire process with inbuilt compliance checks along the way to make sure everything is error-free.

Legal and regulatory considerations

When implementing the I-9 alternative procedure, organizations are subject to a number of legal and regulatory requirements that govern how the process can be implemented.

Organizations are still subject to the same federal regulations governing employment, and as such, they must still work through the usual channels of checking work authorization eligibility, submitting the Form I-9 and verifying the supporting documents.

But because the alternative procedure process is relatively new, organizations should expect that current regulations and/or policies may change and be updated over time—and the onus is on the employer to make sure they’re implementing the process correctly to stay compliant.

Moreover, the process is virtual, which can complicate things from an audit trail perspective. Making sure all interactions and actions are recorded, and that your team uses the same, standardized procedure will go a long way to ensure you’re running a secure, fully compliant process.

Organizations must also consider that there are record-keeping and security requirements that come along with I-9 alternative procedure. This may require a change to the organization’s current system to ensure compliance with various laws and regulations. They must keep legible, clear copies of their employees’ documents securely on file—and they must be ready to present them in the event of an audit.

How to decide if alternative procedure is right for you

When you’re weighing up the right I-9 approach for your organization, you’ll have to consider a few factors in both cases:

  • Organizational composition: Where you operate, and how many locations, offices, or branches you have.
  • Workforce composition: The distribution of remote workers to in-office employees.
  • Hiring goals: Your current hiring velocity, and any goals for hiring over the next few years.
  • Team capacity: The size of your current team working with I-9 compliance processes, and their capacity for additional administrative tasks.
  • Digital infrastructure: Your current level of digital maturity, and the investment required to build more secure document storage and video conferencing systems.

I-9 alternative procedure might be a good fit for organizations that…

  • Have already enrolled in the E-Verify system and use it to hire new employees
  • Manage a remote-first or distributed workforce that spans a wide geographical area
  • Operate based on a mobile workforce model that involves a lot of field work

I-9 alternative procedure might not work for organizations that…

  • Are hiring at scale
  • Lack the internal team capacity to manage the requirements for the the virtual verification process
  • Lack the technological infrastructure—or necessary investment—to ensure a secure, compliant process
  • Manage a workforce that predominantly reports to a physical location
  • Work in a specialized industry which requires additional layers of document verification
  • I-9 verification processes will be contained to office hours and require your in-house team to manage the process. For organizations hiring en masse, this internal administrative and time requirement can quickly add up, pushing out onboarding timelines and increasing hiring costs.

Alternative procedure: Flexibility, but not without some big risks

Remote working isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, which means the demand for compliance processes that keep pace with the modern working world will only continue to gather steam.

But on balance, the I-9 alternative procedure—at least in its current iteration—might not yet be the silver bullet organizations were hoping for when onboarding new remote workers. While the new approach offers organizations much greater flexibility in verifying worker eligibility, it lacks clear guidance on how virtual verification should be conducted and audited, meaning organizations could leave themselves at greater risk of compliance issues. An additional administrative burden in E-Verify may create an administrative bottleneck for your team, limiting their ability to add value to their primary roles.

But there are other options out there that give organizations the best of both worlds when it comes to flexibility and accuracy. WorkBright is a remote onboarding software that’s built for compliance, speed, and security. Our automated E-Verify integration and Smart I-9 work seamlessly with the E-Verify process within our platform. Organizations can quickly, easily, and compliantly verify allow the employee to select their own authorized representative to complete Section 2 work authorization review, keep an audit trail of all actions, and cut out the hours—and errors—of an admin-heavy process.

Find out more by booking a demo.