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In 1986, Congress reformed U.S. immigration laws by passing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). IRCA prompted the creation of the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, which was designated as the means of documenting that the employer verified an employee’s identity and U.S. employment authorization.

Since the Form I-9 became a requirement for all U.S. employers hiring new employees, one key rule has remained unchanged. Within three business days after the first day of employment employers must “physically examine” the documentation presented by new employees from the Lists of Acceptable Documents to ensure that the presented documentation appears to be genuine and to relate to the individual who presents them.

In March 2020, ICE announced that it would defer the requirement that employers review employees’ identity and employment authorization documents in the employees’ physical presence, instead allowing that to occur remotely, with the expectation that physical inspection would occur within three business days after normal operations resumed.

In follow-on guidance, ICE noted that employers could continue to implement the flexibilities until affected employees undertake non-remote employment on a regular, consistent, or predictable basis, or the extension of the flexibilities related to such requirements is terminated, whichever is earlier.

In October 2022, DHS and ICE announced that the flexibilities would be extended until July 31, 2023.  

However, on May 4, 2023 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that employers will have 30 days to reach compliance with Form I-9 requirements after the COVID-19 flexibilities sunset on July 31, 2023.

As noted in the March 2020 announcement, under the flexibilities, employers with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic were allowed to temporarily defer physical examination of employees’ identity and employment authorization documents. Instead, employers could examine the employees’ documents remotely (e.g., over video link, fax, or email) and enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical examination delay in the Section 2 Additional Information field when physical examination took place in the future.

Once the employees’ documents were physically examined, the employer would add “documents physically examined” with the date of examination to Section 2 Additional Information field on the Form I-9, or in Section 3, as appropriate.

However, on Aug. 18, 2022, DHS issued a proposed rule that would allow alternative procedures for the examination of identity and employment eligibility documents. The public comment period closed on Oct. 17, 2022. DHS is currently reviewing public comments and plans to issue a final rule later this year.

This proposed rule would create a framework under which the Secretary of Homeland Security could authorize alternative options for document examination procedures with respect to some or all employers.

Such procedures could be implemented as part of a pilot program, or upon the Secretary’s determination that such procedures offer an equivalent level of security, or as a temporary measure to address a public health emergency declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services pursuant to Section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, or a national emergency declared by the President pursuant to Sections 201 and 301 of the National Emergencies Act.

This proposed rule would allow employers (or agents acting on an employer’s behalf) optional alternatives for examining the documentation presented by individuals seeking to establish identity and employment authorization for purposes of completing the Form I-9.