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Can I Store My I-9 Forms Electronically?

Last Updated on March 17, 2022 / Legal Compliance

HR Question:

I have heard of other employers storing all of their I-9’s electronically, rather than in paper form. Is that acceptable? Is there anything I need to know before moving to store my I-9 Forms electronically?

HR Answer:

Yes, many employers are moving to the electronic completion and storage of their employees’ I-9 Forms. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, you may maintain the forms either electronically or on paper, with a few requirements to keep in mind.

Storing Form I-9s Electronically

If you are storing them offsite, you must be able to produce the documents within 3 days of the request from an auditor. If you decide to maintain your records electronically, you have the option of using an online payroll provider which should allow the employees to complete the form online and store it. Alternatively, you can have employees complete the hard copy paper form and then scan and upload the original signed form. Either option is an acceptable alternative for electronic storage. The paper form can then be destroyed once it has been properly stored electronically.

How to Manage I-9 Verification Documents

Regarding the documents that are provided as “proof” for the I-9, employers are not required to create or attach photocopies of documentation submitted to satisfy the Form I-9 requirements during the employment eligibility verification process, but the practice is permissible.  If you choose to make photocopies of the documents, make sure that you do it for ALL employees to avoid any potential claims of discrimination.

Requirements of Electronic Storage Systems

If you are using an electronic system, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) require you to make sure the system you are using can meet the following requirements:

  • It has controls that ensure the system’s integrity, accuracy, and reliability;
  • It has controls that can prevent and detect the unauthorized or accidental creation of, addition to, alteration of, deletion of, or deterioration of an electronically completed or stored Form I-9, including the electronic signature if used;
  • You have an inspection and quality assurance program in place that regularly evaluates the system and includes periodic checks of electronically stored Form I-9’s, including the electronic signature if used;
  • You have an indexing system that allows users to identify and retrieve records maintained in the system; and
  • The system has the ability to reproduce legible and readable paper copies.

In addition, you are required to document the process and procedures used for collecting and maintaining the documents. You can find additional details on the requirements for storing I-9’s electronically on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Finally, keep in mind that you must have a secure IT system in place. The system should be able to audit who accessed the files and/or edited them, as well as ensure that only authorized individuals have access to the records. You must also have a system in place that ensures the information is securely backed up in the event of a system crash.

How Long You Are Required to Store I-9s

An employer must keep the original Form I-9 for all current employees for as long as they are employed. After an employee terminates employment, the original Form I-9 must be on file for EITHER: three (3) years after the date of hire or one (1) year after employment is terminated – whichever is later. For example:

Scenario A: If an employee is terminated after only 6 weeks on the job, their Form I-9 must be kept for three years after the hire date.

Scenario B: If an employee terminates after 5 years of employment, their Form I-9 must be kept for one year after the date of termination.

Here’s an easy way to calculate the date of Form I-9 retention:

  • If an employee worked fewer than three years (Like scenario A above): Add 3 years to the date of hire
  • If an employee worked more than three years (Like scenario B above): Add 1 year to the date of termination
  • Following the above calculations, use the later of the two dates as the retention date.

Ensuring Storage Safeguards

Storing your I-9’s electronically can be a wonderful solution for these documents – just be sure you have a process in place with the appropriate safeguards and systems. The USCIS warns us that if the records cannot be retrieved during an audit, even if there is proof of a system crash, you will be in violation.

Thanks to Patti Dunham, MBA, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP for contributing this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

Strategic HR knows that keeping abreast of legal compliance issues can be daunting, especially when the laws keep changing. We can help you stay compliant by fielding your questions and offering resources to help you identify and mitigate compliance issues. Visit our Legal Compliance and Recordkeeping page to learn about our auditing services which can help you identify trouble spots in your HR function.