At the end of 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had audited more than 3,000 businesses for I-9 compliance, issuing nearly $13 million in fines. At the same time, surveys show more employers are recognizing the advantages of hiring remote workers.
When J. Andrew Hatter noticed these two trends happening in tandem, he knew there was a window of opportunity widening by the minute.
J. Andrew Hatter is now founder and president of You Are My Witness (TM), a division of AYIN International Inc. It's a patented service that allows employees and employer-designated representatives to sign and convene around a screen-bound I-9 document in a secure video conference.
“An employer is not going to fly someone to L.A. or New York to sign one document. So if you can get that done electronically, that’s a tremendous help,” said Curtis Patton, vice president of sales and marketing at the company. YAMW is filling a much-needed demand, having grown 1000% year-over-year since it began offering services two and a half years ago.
The process still seemed mysterious to me, so I hopped on the site and booked a demo. It was, as Patton described, pretty “fool-proof.”
A few minutes prior to the appointment, I received a secure link inviting me to create an electronic I-9. After typing my pseudo-information into the required fields, I signed my wobbly signature using the mouse (I would recommend a touch-screen device, if possible) and submitted Section 1 for review. I was then directed to join a secure session with Hatter, whom I could see immediately via a video inset in the corner. I had to dial into the conference with my phone, having failed to locate a microphone or webcam. (Considering the rise of mobile devices and smart phones with webcams, this wouldn't normally be a roadblock).
Next, Hatter assumed control of the document on my screen, scrolling down to show me the various identification options from Column A and Column B which a new hire would need to produce and show the camera. In a real session, they would read off the identification numbers on their various forms of ID. We then swapped roles -- I became the witness, and he became the signer. After he signed off on Section 2 (which I observed in real time), that step was checked off and time-stamped in a box on my screen.
“From the minute that document is created – and every time someone touches the document – all of those functions are being tracked,” said Patton. “That’s part of establishing the validity of an electronically signed system.”
Once all of the sections are complete, the PDF of the I-9 is automatically emailed to the employer and the employee gets a copy too (though the document expires after 48 hours). The fee is per transaction and is based on volume. Patton says the average transaction is $25, and that staffing agencies make up the majority of their business.
You Are My Witness also stores that video of the conference in the event ICE issues a notice of inspection. The employer would just need to pay $10 to retrieve that footage from storage.
The video conference environment is also uniquely safe because it requires the employee to vocally agree to the filming and to directly attest that their documents and information are authentic.
“From a fraud-prevention standpoint, theoretically, an employee could put whatever info they wanted on a document,” said Patton. “They could show you false identification to go along with that. With this service, that gets minimized.”
Patton says that although the government does not require a Notary/Authorized Agent to be present at the signing of Form I-9, YAMW chooses to work with a pool of Notaries because they have experience viewing identity documents. They also receive specific training in dealing with I-9s. After all, the compliance handbooks is over 60 pages long.
“There are a host of laws and criteria in the background. There’s a lot to keep in mind – discrimination practices, over- or under-documentation to take into consideration," said Patton. “There are technical and procedural violations – and this is where people are getting fined... What we find is, usually they’re all authorized to work, but it was not done on time, or someone didn’t sign, or a name was misspelled. That’s what’s causing all of this uproar.”