House Republicans Want All Employers to Use E-Verify

But should organizations wait for Congress to pass the law?

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer September 12, 2017
House Republicans Want All Employers to Use E-Verify

A trio of House Republicans reintroduced legislation that would require employers across the country to use E-Verify, the federal government's electronic system to verify new hires' work authorization. Employers in certain states and federal contractors already must use E-Verify, but for most employers, use of the program is voluntary.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is the main sponsor of the Legal Workforce Act, which has passed the House Judiciary Committee three times since 2012 and would require that all employers check the work eligibility of all future hires through the system. Smith was joined in introducing the bill by co-authors Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced his version of the bill in February.

"Nearly 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed—meanwhile, 7 million people are working in the United States illegally," Smith said. "By expanding the E-Verify system to all U.S. employers, this bill will ensure that jobs only go to legal workers."

He added that a recent poll showed that 70 percent of Americans support legislation that makes it illegal for businesses in the U.S. to hire undocumented workers.

Operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), E-Verify checks the Social Security numbers of newly hired employees against government records. The program has a record of confirming 99.8 percent of work-eligible employees and has earned high customer satisfaction scores on the agency's annual surveys, according to USCIS. Over 740,000 employers currently use it.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) supports the bill. "SHRM believes that a legal workforce must be a key element of any effective immigration policy, including a reliable, national and entirely electronic employment-eligibility verification system that provides employers with certainty that new employees are authorized to work in the U.S.," said Chatrane Birbal, a senior government relations advisor at SHRM.

Specifically, SHRM supports congressional reforms that would:

  • Pre-empt the patchwork of state laws with one reliable, accurate and easily accessible federal employment verification system.
  • Create an integrated, entirely electronic system that eliminates the paper Form I-9.
  • Use state-of-the-art technology to accurately authenticate a job applicant's identity, such as knowledge-based authentication to protect against identity theft.
  • Ensure a safe harbor from liability for good-faith program users.
  • Require employment verification only for new hires. 

If passed, the Legal Workforce Act would:

  • Repeal the current paper-based I-9 system and replace it with a completely electronic program.
  • Phase in mandatory E-Verify participation for new hires in six-month increments beginning on the date of enactment. Within six months of enactment, employers with more than 10,000 employees would have to begin using E-Verify. Within 12 months of enactment, organizations with 500 to 9,999 employees would be required to use the program. At 18 months after enactment, businesses with 20 to 499 employees would have to use E-Verify. And 24 months after enactment, employers with 1 to 19 employees would be required to use it. The bill allows a one-time six-month extension of the initial phase-in. It also pushes the start date for agricultural employers to 30 months.
  • Allow employers to use E-Verify to check the work eligibility of their current employees "in a nondiscriminatory manner," for example, all employees in the same geographic location or in the same job category.
  • Pre-empt state laws mandating E-Verify use.
  • Allow workers to lock their Social Security number so that it can't be used by another person to get a job.
  • Grant employers safe harbor from prosecution if they use the E-Verify program in good faith and, through no fault of their own, receive an incorrect eligibility confirmation.
  • Raise penalties on employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers and create a penalty for individuals who knowingly submit false information to the E-Verify system.

Should Employers Wait for a Mandate?

HR consultant David Creelman, the CEO of Creelman Research in Toronto, said employers shouldn't necessarily wait for a government mandate to implement E-Verify. "E-Verify is a sensible system that is neither difficult nor expensive," he said. "It will help ensure you hire eligible and documented workers. It will benefit you in the long run to make E-Verify a standard part of your recruiting and onboarding process—so why not get started now? It's far better to get moving on this implementation so that you can do so at your own pace, and fit it into your own schedule, than to scramble to meet a legislated deadline."

Creelman recommended that organizations check with the HR technology vendors they use to see if vendors have E-Verify compliance built in. "If it's not obvious how this should work with the software you currently have, then call your vendor. They will have run into the issue of integrating an E-Verify process with their software and should have a clear answer," he said. "If you happen to be upgrading your software, make sure you get a system already set up for E-Verify."

Louis D. Crocetti Jr. is a consultant and principal owner of Immigration Integrity Group, based in Washington, D.C., and the former chief of the USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security directorate. He said the web-based training currently available for new E-Verify users is "more than sufficient" to learn how to use the program. USCIS could also offer onsite training and seminars throughout the country, he said.

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