What to Look for in Choosing an Electronic I-9 Program

Looking for an Electronic I-9 Vendor? Ten tips for shopping wisely.

When you decide that you want to start completing I-9s electronically, there are a number of factors in play. Cost is an obvious one, but it should not be the biggest one. You need to ensure that the software program you will be using complies with the U.S. government's complex regulations governing electronic I-9s.

To cover every item to consider would fill a book, so here are ten of my best tips for choosing the best vendor for your business.

  1. Have a qualified immigration expert review the system for compliance.  If the system you buy does not comply with the regulations, and particularly with the electronic signature and audit trail requirements, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may, in the event of an inspection, determine that your I-9s do not exist and may opt to fine you for every I-9 that you completed using the system. When comparing the cost of completing each I-9 in a compliant system versus a noncompliant one, a few dollars per I-9 up front may save you more than a thousand dollars per I-9 during an ICE inspection.
  2. Ask whether the vendor has an immigration expert on staff or regularly consults with an expert during the development/update process.  A software program created by software experts will likely look pretty and be very user-friendly, but it may not contemplate the complexities of immigration law. The I-9 is not a simple form, and an electronic system that goes too far in trying to simplify the form may compromise compliance.
  3. Do not simply buy the “add on” that your current vendor provides, at least not until you’ve done your due diligence.  The “add on” may be a good option, and you will likely save money by using the “add on” system, but make sure to comparison shop and review for compliance.
  4. Ask what version of E-Verify the vendor is currently supporting.  E-Verify requires that its Web-services designated agents update their software to properly communicate with new E-Verify releases within six months of each release. If your provider isn’t up to date with E-Verify, that may signify a lack of compliance in other areas.
  5. Ask where the E-Verify portion of the software is developed.  E-Verify requires that its Web-services designated agents develop their software in the U.S. As with #4, a failure here may signify a lack of compliance in other areas.
  6. Find out whether the electronic signatures are compliant.  Review the signatures for compliance with the I-9 regulations  and  the e-sign act, which arguably applies to electronic I-9s. Consult with an attorney to help complete this review. See  Should Employers Consider an Electronic I-9 Program?  for more about the electronic signature requirements.
  7. Focus on audit trails.  Audit trails and electronic signature are the two areas in which software programs most frequently fail to comply with the regulations. Some systems may still lack audit trails, which should be a red flag to you (stay away). Others have audit trails that are non-compliant. Consult with an attorney to help complete this review. See  Should Employers Consider an Electronic I-9 Program?  for more about the audit trail requirements.
  8. Ask yourself whether you like working with the vendor.  It may seem simple, but you are about to enter into what should be a long-term relationship. You will likely be working with the vendor during changes to the Form I-9, during periodic training sessions, when you have questions, and/or when you need to make changes to your configurations. You want to work with someone you like and feel you can trust. Was the vendor happy to cooperate when you asked to have your attorney review the program? If not, or if you dread talking to the vendor even before you sign up, you might want to look elsewhere!
  9. Do you want, and are you getting, any “extras”?  Many vendors offer free webinars when legal changes might affect you. Some offer newsletters, blogs, or other compliance updates. These offerings may benefit you, and perhaps more importantly, they demonstrate that the vendor itself is staying on top of the changes and compliance issues.
  10. Look at the contract in advance.  There is no need to wait until you have chosen a vendor to ask to see the vendor’s contract for I-9 services. The vendor should be happy to show you a sample. You should read the contract to see if you are happy with the guarantees the vendor is willing to make about its software (if any). Some promise compliance and offer money-back guarantees; others may deny any responsibility for compliance.

There are a number of other factors to consider when looking for electronic I-9 software; these tips should help you become an informed shopper and make a wiser decision about which software is right for your organization.

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