A "Smart" Version of the Form I-9 is on the Horizon

Date: June 30, 2016

Originally published in Association TRENDS magazine, June 2016.

All employers are required to complete a Form I-9 for newly hired employees to verify the employee's identity and eligibility to work in the United States.  Failure to complete the Form I-9 can result in severe penalties against the employer.  To help make this process more efficient, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has proposed a new “smart” version of the Form I-9 in an attempt to reduce user error and make the form easier to complete.  

The “smart” form, which will be available for download at after it is approved, allows employers to choose from drop-down menus, allows for field checks and error messages to verify the information input is accurate when the form is being completed.  In the past, employers have not been required to use an updated Form I-9 if the changes in versions of the I-9 were not substantial.  However, it is anticipated that once the “smart” form is approved, employers may be required to use the “smart” version of the I-9 since the changes are notable.  

Changes to the “smart” form include but are not limited to the following:

  • Validating information input by the employer to make sure it is entered correctly, as well as validating the correct number of digits for a social security number or an expiration date on an identity document.  
  • Clarifies Section 1 of the form which will require new employees to only provide “other last names used” instead of “other names used” as the current version of the form requires.  
  • Includes various help buttons to assist the user with completing the form and allows users to read instructions for each specific field to be completed on the form.
  • Limits users' choice of documents from drop-down menus which include a list of acceptable identification documents.  
  • Simplifies the certification for certain foreign nationals by asking for a Form I-94 number or foreign passport information instead of both.  
  • Upon completion, the form will generate a quick-response matrix barcode or QR code once the form is printed.  

It is important to note that employers should not consider the “smart” form as an electronic form.  Even though the form can be completed electronically, it is not an electronic Form I-9.  This means that employers must still print the form, obtain the employee's original signature on the form, file and maintain the I-9 as required by law, as well as track expiration dates for reverification.   

The current edition of the Form I-9 states it expires on March 31, 2016.  However, the new “smart” form has not yet been issued; thus, the USCIS will likely extend the use of the current form until the “smart” form is approved.  The public was permitted to provide comments on the proposed changes to the I-9 until April 27, 2016.  After the 30-day period ends and the public comments are reviewed, further changes could be made to the I-9 by the USCIS.  However, once the form is finally approved, the revised Form I-9 and form instructions will be posted on the USCIS website and available for use by employers.