DHS Provides Employers Certainty and a New Flexible Option for Employment Eligibility Verification

In a move to modernize the employment eligibility verification process and cater to the changing dynamics of the post-COVID economic recovery, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has introduced a new flexible option for American businesses. Employers who participate in E-Verify and are in good standing will now have the option to conduct verification electronically and with a live video call interaction, eliminating the need for in-person document examination.

This significant update is aimed at providing certainty and flexibility for employers while ensuring the integrity of the employment eligibility verification process. The final rule and Federal Register notice will come into effect on August 1, 2023.

The new option allows employers to remotely examine an employee’s identity and employment authorization documents, recognizing the realities of the current work environment where more Americans are working remotely than ever before. The DHS has also been granted authority under this rule to conduct a pilot program that could extend the remote examination option to a broader category of employers. The data collected during the pilot program will be used to assess the possibility of expanding the remote examination option further, providing even more businesses with flexible alternatives. Further details about the pilot program will be made available shortly.

The decision to streamline the employment eligibility verification process comes at a time when overall labor force participation has rebounded to its pre-pandemic levels. The economy has seen unprecedented job creation in just two years, and unemployment has remained below 4 percent for 18 consecutive months. Additionally, there has been a surge in the number of people starting new businesses. This move is seen as a response to requests from American businesses and lawmakers to strengthen accessibility for the growing workforce.

E-Verify, a free web-based system operated by DHS in partnership with the Social Security Administration, enables participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their employees. Under current regulations, employers must physically examine the Form I-9 documentation presented by new employees within three business days after their first day of employment to ensure its authenticity.

The final rule and notice amend these regulations to offer a remote alternative to the physical examination of Form I-9 documentation, without imposing it on employers or employees. While employers may continue to conduct physical examinations, those who wish to use the remote procedure can enroll in E-Verify with minimal burdens.

Employers who do not participate in E-Verify have until August 30, 2023, as previously announced, to perform all required physical examination of identity and employment authorization documents for individuals hired on or after March 20, 2020, and who have received only a virtual or remote examination under the COVID-19 temporary flexibilities.

To further assist employers, the accompanying rule introduces several modifications to the Form I-9, making it easier to use. The revised form will be condensed to one page and accessible on tablets and mobile devices, reducing the employer and employee burden associated with the form. The new edition of Form I-9 can be used starting from August 1, 2023, while employers can continue using the previous edition until October 31, 2023.

To ensure a smooth transition, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will generally not prioritize enforcement actions against Form I-9 verification violations for employers who are otherwise compliant with the law and regulation, provided they have taken timely steps to complete physical document examination within a reasonable period of time, following the COVID-19 flexibility guidance.

With this new flexible option and streamlined process, DHS aims to bolster employment eligibility verification, supporting businesses in their hiring practices while adapting to the changing landscape of remote work in the post-pandemic era.