E-Verify, the federal government’s online tool to allow employers to quickly search government records to verify whether an individual can legally work in the United States, is a key element of immigration reform legislation passed by the U.S. Senate in June and legislation currently being considered by the House of Representatives.
The National Restaurant Association has supported federal measures that would make use of the system mandatory for all employers. This would give restaurant operators a way to show that they have made a good-faith effort to verify the work eligibility of new hires and reduce the chances of having to later dismiss employees or pay fines for hiring ineligible workers. The NRA supports the Legal Workforce Act, the House’s E-Verify bill, which would make E-Verify mandatory for all employers over the course of two years and allow employers to make employment contingent on proof of worker eligibility. The Association initially supported the E-Verify provisions in the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill, but objected to certain labor provisions included in the final version. While any employer can use E-Verify, most are not required to do so. At least 20 states require some private employers to use the system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A federal law would override a patchwork of differing state E-Verify mandates.
E-Verify was launched as a pilot in 1996 and re-named E-Verify in 2007. The information used to verify eligibility is taken from Social Security, passport and Department of Homeland Security immigration records, which could include green cards, employment authorization or other documents, said Bill Wright, spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which operates E-Verify.
“The system was built to allow an employer who has hired or offered a job to an individual to verify that the individual is authorized to work in the U.S.,” Wright said. More than 470,000 employers had enrolled in E-Verify as of August, and more than 21.5 million queries have been run through E-Verify in the current fiscal year, Wright said.
E-Verify has an accuracy rate of over 99 percent when accurate information—taken from the individual’s I-9 form—is entered, Wright said. The information includes the individual’s name, other names used, address, birth date, Social Security number and, if applicable, alien registration number or USCIS number and foreign passport number. “Once an employer joins and enters information from the new employee’s I-9 form, [the verification] generally comes back within 10 seconds, or a half hour at most,” Wright said. “Over 97 percent of the time they’re coming back as authorized workers.”
When an individual cannot be verified, the employer has to inform them that the information could not be confirmed, and notify them of possible reasons why it could not be verified. Employers also must notify employees and applicants that the employer uses the system, Wright said. Employers cannot fire employees solely based on lack of verification through E-Verify, he said, and individuals can contest what’s known as a “tentative nonconfirmation,” or TNC. If a newly hired employee chooses to contest the result, they have eight federal working days to visit a Social Security Administration office or contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to begin the process of resolving the TNC. The individual’s information is updated in the E-Verify system once the TNC is resolved. Employees must be allowed to continue working while contesting the TNC and cannot have any adverse action taken against them because of it.
Kay Elledge, office manager of Lizard’s Thicket, a casual-dining restaurant with 14 locations in South Carolina, has been using E-Verify as part of the hiring process since 2008. “I use it every day for all of the employees we hire,” she said. “It’s simple, as long as you put in the correct information.” After entering the information from the new hire’s I-9 form, Elledge clicks on a “verify” button, and is told within minutes whether the candidate to whom a job offer has been made is eligible to work in the United States.
If the names match, Elledge prints out the verification and adds it to the employee’s file. If the individual is not verified, it does not necessarily mean they aren’t eligible to work. It could mean that an error was made when entering the information, or that the information in the database doesn’t match what the prospective employee provided.
“If they have several different names—and that happens—if you don’t input the information that’s identical to what’s on their Social Security card, it won’t verify,” Elledge said. In cases where the information can’t be verified, Elledge prints out the record of the search and gives it to the candidate so he or she can try to correct any errors that may have caused the information not to be verified.
Employers who sign up for E-Verify must complete a tutorial and sign a memorandum of understanding regarding their responsibilities and privacy expectations, Wright said. He noted that E-Verify cannot be used to pre-screen individuals before they have been offered a job. “They have to already be working there or already have a job offer,” he said.
More information on E-Verify, including how to register, can be found at www.USCIS.gov/everify.