E-Verify Enhancement Allows Job Seekers to Check Their Status

By Roy Maurer Mar 31, 2011
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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced March 21, 2011, the launch of E-Verify Self Check—a service that allows individuals in the United States to check their employment eligibility status before formally seeking employment.

DHS officials hope the program will cut back on the number of documented workers whose status is wrongly questioned during the hiring process because of database errors in the E-Verify work eligibility system. The self-check service provides “clear instructions in both English and Spanish on how the user can correct his or her records,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas said at the program’s rollout news conference.

E-Verify Self Check is an extension of E-Verify, a government-run, Internet-based verification system that more than 225,000 companies rely on to ensure that new employees aren’t in the U.S. illegally and thus ineligible to work. It is the first online E-Verify program offered directly to workers and job seekers, the DHS said.

The feature—which went live March 21, 2011, for residents of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Virginia and the District of Columbia—will allow individuals to check their employment eligibility status rather than wait for a potential employer to alert them to red flags. While employers still must verify job seekers’ eligibility for them to obtain employment, the new feature gives prospective employees a chance to correct any inaccuracies in DHS or Social Security Administration (SSA) records before applying for jobs. The goal is to expand the program nationwide in the next 12 months, the department said.

“We’re expanding and improving the E-Verify system so that employers who are attempting to maintain a legal workforce can more easily take steps to do so,” said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Napolitano argued that the self-check feature will improve E-Verify’s accuracy and efficiency, enhance customer service, and reduce fraud and misuse.

How It Will Work

The free, voluntary self-check service will allow prospective employees to enter data into the E-Verify system to ensure that the information relating to their work eligibility is accurate. The service gives users the opportunity to submit corrections to any inaccuracies in their DHS or SSA records before applying for jobs, which will allow workers to “better protect themselves from potential workplace discrimination that could result from an employer’s abuse of the E-Verify system,” the department said, referring to the practice of employers using E-Verify to check the employment eligibility of job candidates before they’re hired.

The E-Verify Self Check process consists of four steps:

  1. Users enter identifying information online (e.g., name, date of birth, address). The DHS said that it is requiring the minimum amount of personal data for this process and that all data is wiped clean in the event the user cancels the self-check midstream. The department indicated that the ID check is a “soft hit,” meaning that it will not have any impact on credit scores.
  2. Users confirm their identity through an identity assurance process to ensure that individuals are running a check only on themselves. Before allowing anyone to check employment eligibility status, E-Verify Self Check confirms that the person is who he or she claims to be through an independent service that generates an identity assurance quiz based on credit-related information.
  3. Users confirm their identity by answering demographic and/or financial questions generated by a third-party service—in the case of this first pilot phase, a system provided by credit rating agency Equifax. This identity information is not shared with the DHS in any way, with the department notified only that a user’s identity is verified and that self-check may proceed, the DHS said.
  4. Users enter work eligibility information—essentially Form 1-9 data—such as a Social Security number and citizenship status.

E-Verify Self Check checks users’ information against relevant government databases and returns information on users’ employment eligibility status.

If an individual receives an SSA or immigration mismatch, E-Verify Self Check will provide a prompt to resolve the mismatch or not. If the individual chooses not to resolve the mismatch, E-Verify will close the case. If the individual chooses to resolve an SSA mismatch, a form will be generated that contains the individual’s first and last name, the date and time of the E-Verify query, the E-Verify case number, and detailed instructions on how to resolve the mismatch. If the individual decides to resolve an immigration mismatch, E-Verify Self Check provides instructions to contact the E-Verify Customer Contact Office to assist in the correction of immigration records.

Employer Benefit

“Self Check is definitely a step in the right direction for E-Verify, as it will enable proactive individuals to fix errors or inconsistencies in government database systems completely outside of the employment context,” said John Fay, an immigration attorney and general counsel with LawLogix Group Inc., a provider of electronic I-9 compliance software.

“Empowering individuals to self-correct could ultimately result in fewer tentative nonconfirmations during the employer-initiated E-Verify process and fewer instances of wrongful terminations, which can occur when employers mistakenly or deliberately fire employees without giving them the opportunity to contest,” Fay told SHRM Online.

Jena Baker McNeill, senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., also sees potential in the new program.

“Done right, E-Verify Self Check is a cheap and easy way to correct inaccuracies in the root databases and fix simple errors in the E-Verify system,” McNeill told SHRM Online. “Self Check isn’t a one-stop solution, but it is a good step forward. It will decrease E-Verify program workload in the long run as well as help facilitate more widespread deployment,” McNeill said.

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"As with any time the government tries to do IT, if the government doesn’t make it user-friendly or if the program isn’t properly resourced, the public isn’t going to use it.”

--McNeill

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However, the DHS emphasized that E-Verify Self Check is not for employer use and that the results of a self-check do not replace the results of an employer E-Verify query.

One of the primary concerns with E-Verify Self Check is that employers might improperly require individuals to use the system prior to submitting a job application, basically shifting the burden of establishing employment eligibility, cautioned Fay.

This would constitute “pre-screening,” which is prohibited under the I-9 and E-Verify rules, Fay said. “My advice to employers is to simply be aware of the E-Verify Self Check program and make sure that all hiring managers and I-9 verifiers understand that Self Check can’t be used as a condition of employment, and that they cannot accept the results as proof of work authorization,” he added.

It’s important for employers to remember that E-Verify can be used only for new hires once an offer has been extended and accepted and an I-9 form has been completed.

An individual’s status or information might change between the time they use Self Check and when an employer runs their information through E-Verify. Therefore, a self-check confirmation of work authorization does not guarantee that a future E-Verify query will result in a confirmation of work authorization, the department explained.

Still Challenges

Increasingly, the Obama administration and some congressional Republicans are supporting E-Verify as more database inaccuracies are corrected. Some states have begun requiring employers to use the program. Still, critics of the government’s electronic verification program say enhancements to E-Verify won’t solve the illegal immigration problem as much as make it less noticeable.

Expanding E-Verify “would actually encourage businesses and workers to enter the underground economy by working off the books,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.

“Lofgren has a point,” Mary Pivec, a partner with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Keller and Heckman, LLP, told SHRM Online.

Just as the I-9 process triggered the growth of the fake document industry, a universal E-Verify mandate will cause some employers with difficult-to-fill positions to resort to the underground economy, Pivec said.

“I suspect that Rep. Lofgren is concerned that [E-Verify expansions] will encourage more employers and workers to enter into undocumented work/pay arrangements—for example, independent contractors who work without benefits and are not covered by state unemployment and workers’ compensation—even if they have not done so before, because those arrangements leave no document trail,” she said.

The Heritage Foundation’s McNeill vehemently disagreed with Lofgren’s assertion and sees only the good in the expansion of E-Verify.

“E-Verify gives businesses an easy way to check the immigration status of their employees and empowers honest employers with the tools to quickly and accurately ensure they have an authorized workforce,” McNeill told SHRM Online. “Combined with other worksite enforcement measures like random I-9 audits, this can have an incredibly powerful impact in terms of decreasing the illegal population inside the United States as well as reducing the number of future entrants,” she said.

Issue: Financial 'Footprint'

A potential problem that the DHS has recognized and is continuing to address is the issue of an insufficient credit “footprint” of potential users, which will kill the verification process. To use the system, an individual must pass through an identity check that is generated based on the person’s credit history.

“Because successful completion of the verification process is reliant on the existence of enough points of information in the database to permit the formation of inquiries that generally could only be answered by the real identity holder, younger workers with no credit or work history, including U.S. citizens, may be locked out of the system for lack of sufficient identity data,” Pivec said.

According to the DHS, the identity assurance service should be able to generate quizzes for nearly 90 percent of the population. The problem is that many foreign-born individuals will not have any financial footprint in the U.S., Fay noted.

“This is especially problematic for newly arrived foreign national workers in L-1 or J-1 status who have been known to receive a significant number of tentative nonconfirmations,” he said.

Self Check will be unable to generate an identity assurance quiz if a user:

  • Enters information incorrectly, preventing the independent service from locating any records on the individual.
  • Has recently attempted to take the identity assurance quiz too many times.
  • Lacks a sufficient financial record because he or she entered the country or the U.S. workforce recently.
  • Has reported certain fraud alerts to the state or a credit bureau or has placed a security freeze on his or her credit report.

“As with any time the government tries to do IT, if the government doesn’t make it user-friendly or if the program isn’t properly resourced, the public isn’t going to use it,” McNeill said. “Also, if they don’t act expeditiously to fix and resolve the errors, it will simply be a waste of money and a great data reporting enterprise. It’s probably good that they are doing several pilots so they can figure out the right technology and make sure it is user-friendly,” she said.

Security Concerns

When Self-Check was announced, many organizations expressed concerns over the security and privacy of the individual’s personally identifiable information that is transmitted during the process. The DHS responded by saying that preventing misuse of the service and ensuring the security of a user’s personally identifiable information are of the utmost importance.

Additional privacy and security protections built in to the self-check service include:

  • Defenses to prevent phishing attacks and attempts to circumvent the identity assurance process.
  • Safeguards to block IP addresses and deny service to anyone attempting to access Self Check from outside the continental United States and to block usage by hackers attempting to attack the service.
  • Ongoing and active monitoring by the DHS to prevent misuse.

“There is a concern that hackers will be able to steal data from the vendor’s database or data sources and sell it to individuals who want to pass the E-Verify process by posing as other individuals,” Pivec said. Even though USCIS has given assurances that privacy and security protections are built into the self-check program, “the proof will be in the pudding,” Pivec added.

How Employers Can Prepare

“Employers should strongly consider working with outside counsel to develop standard operating procedures [SOPs] for E-Verify and training of HR personnel to understand these finer details,” Fay advised.

An SOP document could outline the steps to follow, proper use of the system and any oversight that the employer determines necessary. Fay advised that it’s probably best not to accept or retain E-Verify Self Check authorizations as part of the I-9 process.

The agency expects that the self-check service will generate between 850,000 and 1 million queries in the first year of use, with about 8 million queries per year after the program has been expanded nationwide.

Roy Maurer is a staff writer for SHRM.

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