In April 2005 when Public Law 108-390 went into effect allowing for employers to sign and retain I-9 employment eligibility verification forms electronically, employers and immigration practitioners alike may have been justifiably confused as provisional guidance from the Department of Homeland Security’s ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement) division on their web page http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/i-9employment.htm was introduced. ICE guided employers to “interpret the law”(!), and advised employers to “note that there is no single government-wide electronic signature or record-keeping standard. However, some federal agencies have provided electronic record-keeping standards for their own transactions with the public…[which] may serve as a helpful reference for employers until DHS issues regulations to govern the storage of Forms I-9.” For over a year, employers and their counsel had to guess about what standards would comply with the law and fit within the enforcement agency’s vague guidance. Despite tangible benefits in terms of paperwork reduction, many employers opted to wait for something more concrete before investing in an electronic I-9 program and institutional training.
In June 2006, ICE issued an interim rule which provisionally codified standards that employers wishing to use electronic I-9 completion and storage systems should observe. Building on their initial guidance, most of the standards outlined in the provisional rule reflected IRS electronic recordkeeping guidelines, and covered criteria such as accessibility, accuracy, security, and quality of data being captured and systems being used for electronic storage. http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2006/E6-9283.htm.
Some four years later, an advance copy of final rules modifying 8 CFR 274a.2 has been issued (http://www.justice.gov/eoir/vll/fedreg/2010_2011/fr22jul10.pdf), so presumably interested parties have had sufficient time to comment on the interim rules prior to finalization, unlike some notorious instances of agency “legislation by decree” in which policy “clarifications” were later deemed to have unlawfully omitted the normal public comment period. http://www.jacksonlewis.com/legalupdates/article.cfm?aid=1579.
The final version of the rule contains standards which will be familiar to employers who currently use electronic I-9 systems and the vendors who market such systems. As before, the final rule “permits employers to complete, sign, scan, and store the Form I-9 electronically, as long as certain performance standards… are met.” Changes in the final rule are relatively minor, amounting in most instances to clarifications:
-employers must complete a Form I-9 within three business (not calendar) days;
-employers may use paper, electronic systems, or a combination of paper and electronic systems;
-employers may change electronic storage systems as long as the systems meet the performance requirements of the regulations;
-employers need not retain audit trails of each time a Form I-9 is electronically viewed, but only when the Form I-9 is created, completed, updated, modified, altered, or corrected; and
-employers may provide or transmit a confirmation of a Form I-9 transaction, but are not required to do so unless the employee requests a copy.
This rule does not include any changes to I-9 form content or acceptable documents, but an acceptable document change did occur in 2008 (73 FR 76505) and 2009 (72 FR 2838 – correction). Therefore, while there was nothing dramatic or surprising in the final rule, employers can now rest assured that electronic I-9 completion and storage standards appear to be final.