Meisinger: Reform Employee Verification System

By J.J. Smith Jun 8, 2007

The pilot Electronic Employment Verification System (EEVS), which would be expanded nationwide under an immigration reform proposal that has stalled in Congress, would tie the hands of HR professionals and leave their organizations vulnerable to costly mistakes in hiring, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Testifying on Capitol Hill on June 7, 2007, SHRM President and CEO Susan R. Meisinger, SPHR, said that the current EEVS—also known as the Basic Pilot system—has not been shown to be a reliable system for determining who is authorized to work in the United States. While SHRM supports the efforts to ensure that employers hire only work-authorized individuals through an effective, efficient electronic employment verification system, the current verification system is in need of real reform, she said.

“Employers need the right tools to verify an eligible workforce, but we should not have HR be America’s surrogate border patrol agents. Rather, employers are entitled to a clear answer to the query if their employees are authorized to work,” she said.

The EEVS is prone to fraud, forgeries and identity theft, making it difficult, “if not impossible,” for employers to differentiate between the legal and illegal workers in the process, Meisinger told the House Social Security subcommittee. “In addition, if an employer questions the validity of documents too much, they are also vulnerable to potential claims of discrimination,” she added.

SHRM is urging Congress to consider the implications of any new employment verification system. Currently, employers are required to review documents presented by employees and attest on Form I-9 that the reviewed documents appeared authentic, she said. However, even under the best of circumstances, HR professionals encounter numerous challenges in employment verification, she said.

Paper or Plastic?

The current system requires employers to inspect each new employee’s work eligibility using the electronic verification system while also doing a paper check and maintaining paper records, Meisinger said. The system is supposed to respond within three days with a confirmation or potential non-confirmation of a new employee’s work eligibility. In the cases of potential non-confirmation, a secondary verification process is initiated to confirm the validity of the information provided and to provide the employer with the confirmation of non-verification of worker eligibility.

However, while 92 percent of employers receive an instantaneous employment authorization response, there is a “no-verification response” 8 percent of the time, she said. Under a mandatory employment verification system, a no-verification response 8 percent of the time would force a significant number of human interventions, she said. A significant effort would be needed to correct various databases and increase communication between government agencies, she said, adding that SHRM believes that such a task would be problematic.

Although the EEVS has been operational since 1997, and despite the best efforts of the people in the government agencies to manage it, SHRM believes that it is simply inadequate to meet U.S. employers’ needs in a global verification system, Meisinger said.

Under any immigration reform bill, Congress must transform the verification process into a state-of-the-art electronic system, Meisinger said. Specifically, SHRM advocates a system that would verify identity through traditional background checks and a voluntary use of biometric enrollment conducted by government-certified private vendors. The system would be built on background checks conducted by many employers, she said adding that a SHRM survey revealed that 85 percent of the organization’s members already conduct employment verification reference checks. Immigration reform needs to include a system of forensic document examinations in tailored data mining in publicly available databases. The system would lock an individual’s data to biometric or other secure identifiers, and employees would not need to present an identity card—just themselves, she said. Such a system would answer two vital questions:

  • Is the person identified by name, date of birth and Social Security number authorized to work?
  • Is the person actually who he or she claims to be?

Committee member Sam Johnson, R-Texas, said he has advocated the use of biometrics, and he asked Meisinger for her opinion on the practicality of the use of biometrics for identification.

The technology is there, and biometric information has the advantage of being carried with the person, Meisinger replied. With biometrics, a person does not need to carry an identification card. In addition, there are now ways to build a system that is not centralized in one government agency because “it is troublesome to many people that this would all be in some centralized database,” she said. What SHRM and the HR community would like to see is technology experts coming together with privacy experts as well as with employers and government to sort through what is possible.

“I don’t think there is anything we’ll ever develop that provides absolute protection against piracy, because you can’t control people’s behaviors. But I think there are ways to design something that gets closer to whatever one is trying to get done,” she said.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said the task of implementing a new EEVS within the time frame that would have been imposed by the Senate bill would be “simply overwhelming.”

Brady credited the panel of witnesses—including Meisinger—with exposing the myths that any federal agency would be ready in 18 months to be able to verify employment status and identification reliably and accurately, and that a single document, such as a national ID card, is necessary. The “truth of the matter is some workers will be very easily verified (and) others will be very difficult,” so a broad system that is flexible enough to deal with that is something that should be explored.

J.J. Smith is manager of SHRM Online’s Global HR Focus Area.

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