Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the federal government has allowed U.S. businesses to verify potential and current employees’ work eligibility documents remotely, including through email and fax.
While this program has now been extended through the fall, the Biden administration is possibly looking at ways to make a form of it permanent, publishing a proposed rule on Thursday that “could authorize alternative options for document examination procedures with respect to some or all employers,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said.
“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, Employment Eligibility Verification,” DHS said.
Employers responded positively to the temporary program “because of recent advancements in technology,” Reuters reports. Normally, documents like green cards and drivers’ licenses must be physically present during onboarding. “The rule proposed on Thursday would not create a specific verification program, but would allow DHS to explore various options for doing so,” Reuters continued. “The publication of the proposal kicked off a 60-day comment period.”
Under previous leadership, the federal government has not always been so willing to extend this sort of flexibility. When the pandemic led to the cancelation of oath naturalization ceremonies—thus halting the citizenship process for countless immigrants—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the previous administration steadily refused to conduct virtual oaths despite having legal authority to do so.
“To be clear, the law is not as stringent as USCIS suggests and there is legal room for USCIS to make appropriate accommodations for remote oath ceremonies,” then-Director of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Watch Ur Jaddou said at the time. (She has since been appointed by the Biden administration to head USCIS.) “But it takes will and interest to do so.”
Immigrants were then forced to launch a class-action lawsuit in order to be able to vote in time for the 2020 election. Philadelphia residents Abdel Wahab Alaussos and Maria Campbell Davis led the lawsuit. “Alaussos was approved for naturalization in March but was never scheduled for an oath ceremony,” Philadelphia Inquirer said in 2020, while Campbell Davis was set to take hers that month but then saw it canceled due to the pandemic with no rescheduled date in sight.
Guidance allowing employers to verify documents remotely was set to expire this past April, but in May was extended by the Biden administration through the end of October. “DHS acknowledged that remote verification could pose a risk of fraud,” Reuters noted. “To combat that, the agency said it is considering requiring employers to complete training on how to detect fraudulent documents.”
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