While the federal government has made strides in improving E-Verify, several significant challenges remain to ensure the accuracy of the electronic employment verification system, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Jan. 18, 2011.
Following recommendations made by the GAO in 2008, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) took several steps to improve E-Verify by expanding the number of databases searched during the verification checks of newly hired workers and by instituting several quality control procedures. The GAO analyzed these changes and improvements in its latest report and found that the accuracy of E-Verify had reduced the number of “false negatives” and confirmed the work eligibility of 97.4 percent of employees checked through E-Verify in fiscal 2009—compared to a 92 percent accuracy rate in fiscal 2006.
However, the GAO found that some persistent E-Verify errors can create problems for thousands of workers who are eligible to work in the United States yet are identified falsely by the system as ineligible.
The report stated that the system had problems with workers whose names are recorded “differently on various authorizing documents.” Whenever names are listed differently on databases and documents (such as misspellings and including or excluding initials), E-Verify will issue tentative nonconfirmations (TNCs) automatically. While many TNCs can be cleared up in a matter of days, according to GAO researchers, some errors persist and force employers to not hire or to discharge workers who are eligible to work in the United States.
“Because TNCs are more likely to affect foreign-born employees, they can lead to the appearance of work discrimination,” the report stated. “USCIS has not disseminated information to employees advising them of the importance of consistently recording their names on documentation provided to employers.”
Additionally, the report concluded that E-Verify remains vulnerable to identity theft and employer fraud. Critics of E-Verify have stated repeatedly that the federal government should replace E-Verify eventually with a system that offers better privacy protections and is less vulnerable to employer tampering.
“U.S. employers need a foolproof employment verification system to avoid the problems of fraud and identity theft that currently undermine the effectiveness of E-Verify,” said Michael Aitken, director of government affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), in a statement released by the HR Initiative for a Legal Workforce.
The Initiative supports legislation that would create a new, more accurate federal electronic verification system.
“We are eager to continue our work with Congress to see that a state-of-the-art employment verification system is included as a central component of immigration reform legislation,” Aitken said.
Although USCIS has attempted to improve the accuracy and minimize the privacy risks of personal information of workers who are processed through E-Verify, these workers have limited access for reviewing the information and making sure it is correct and not being misused.
According to the GAO, workers must use a Privacy Act request to gain access to the system and attempt to correct any erroneous data. During fiscal year 2009, Privacy Act requests to federal agencies took an average of 104 days to process.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have acknowledged that the process for employees to monitor and correct their personal records could be improved. The GAO report stated that streamlined procedures are needed to allow workers to “effectively correct any inaccurate personal information” and to help reduce the number of TNCs and improve identity theft protections. GAO researchers did not make recommendations as to what procedures might work best; the report stated that developing the new procedures and regulations would be the responsibility of enforcement agencies.
According to Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice for the GAO, effective enforcement of violations of identity theft and employer fraud laws is needed to ensure that E-Verify works properly and provides U.S. employers with the tool they need to verify the work eligibility of their new hires.
“Improvements have definitely been made to E-Verify, but there’s plenty of work that needs to be done,” Stana said. “The USCIS and other federal agencies that enforce federal immigration laws need to have the proper resources in funding, manpower and equipment to ensure the system operates effectively. Otherwise it will remain vulnerable to fraud and misuse.”
Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.
Critic’s Critique of E-Verify, HR Magazine, December 2008
GAO: E-Verify Can’t Eliminate Identity Fraud, HR News, July 2008