On Monday, November 14, 2016, USCIS published the new friendlier I-9 form. Employers must use the new version commencing January 22, 2017, and can continue to use the prior version (dated March 8, 2013) until January 21st .
USCIS announced that the “Changes are designed to reduce errors and enhance form completion using a computer”.
Design improvements include separating the instructions from the form into a more extensive (12 page) document; a dedicated area for additional information; and a supplemental page to list additional preparers or translators.
It is not an electronic form allowing for an electronic signature, but the Adobe based document when completed on a computer, with internet access, provides dropdown lists; calendars for date fields; and field-specific on-screen instructions drawn directly from the 12 page instruction document.
USCIS advises that no field should be left blank, and “n/a” should be inserted as applicable, and the prompts reflect the same.
Instructions advise on what to do if an individual does not yet have a social security number.
Both a fillable and a plain paper I-9 form are provided.
Overall, I would have to say that the new I-9 form is more user-friendly, but many of the difficult issues relating to completing I-9 forms remain unresolved. USCIS plans to update the Handbook for Employers (Form M-274) by January and hopefully additional guidance will be provided.
It is still a struggle however, to deal with real life challenges, such as companies that are hiring individuals in remote locations, not proximate to company headquarters or the hiring site. It has been common practice for many employers to have one corporate agent review the documents in the presence of the new hire, forward them to the corporate hiring site, where another corporate employee would complete the Section 2 certification. To date, USCIS and ICE will not accept this “corporate certification” and insist that the same individual who examined the documents in the presence of the new hire must also sign the certification.
USCIS efforts to make the I-9 process more user-friendly are admirable, but the agency continues to struggle to catch-up with realities on the ground as to how companies conduct business. USCIS resists efficiencies that companies propose. For example, to this day, ICE and USCIS adamantly object to use of software that would pre-populate Section 1 of the I-9 form, even if the system in place requires the new hire to separately verify each field before it is accepted.
There is a certain irony in this, given that the new user-friendly I-9 form comes one step closer to pre-population with its dropdown menus and links. I guess we must be patient with USCIS. Eventually, they will catch up.