As heated debates on immigration law continue to unfold, businesses large and small brush up against the topic each time they onboard a new employee. Whenever someone is hired, it’s the business’ responsibility to confirm their eligibility to work in the U.S.. E-Verify is a government program intended to make that process easier.

First piloted in 1996, E-Verify is an online employee authorization program managed by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. The program compares an employee’s I-9 form against the two department’s databases to confirm a worker’s immigration status.

E-Verify is available for free to employers throughout the country. Though the federal government does not mandate E-Verify as of today, 20 states require the use of the program for some mix of public and/or private businesses. Ongoing debate about a federal, nationwide mandate continues today, with bipartisan support and opposition alike.

How do you know if E-Verify is right — or required — for your company? We’ll dive in below, but first, we’ll tell you a bit more about how E-Verify works.

What is E-Verify and how does it work?

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) was passed in 1996 to stop ineligible employees from gaining employment in the US. The act launched three pilot programs to allow enrolled businesses to verify their new employees’ immigration status using the information on each hire’s I-9 form. This movement stemmed from immigration law passed a decade earlier that set guidelines for employers verifying employee immigration documents.

Over the next two decades, the program expanded to the internet (it was originally conducted by phone) and progressed through several iterations to protect against errors and fraud. In 2007, DHS renamed the program E-Verify and it continued to expand from there. As of March 31, 2019, 853,751 employers are registered to use E-Verify.

Which states mandate the use of E-Verify?

In the fall of 2009, it became mandatory to process most state and federal contractors through the E-Verify system, albeit with several exemptions. By 2012, 20 states had mandated the use of E-Verify on for private or public employees as well, each with its own set of requirements and protections against fraud. States mandating the use of E-verify for some or more businesses include:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Business using E-verify start by completing the standard I-9 form for new employees. Within three days of the new hire’s start date, the employer enters that hire’s name, social security number, and other identifying information into E-verify, which then compares it to the data in the DHS and SSA systems. Employers then receive a confirmation if the employee is good to go or a tentative nonconfirmation notice (TNC) if something is amiss. In the latter case, further steps are taken to confirm the employee’s authorization before their work can begin.

Federal Mandate Deliberation

The question remains: Will the federal government pass a bill mandating the national use of E-Verify by all employers? R.J. Hauman, director of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), writes in The Hill that nation-wide, mandatory use of E-Verify would discourage people overstaying their Visas in order to find work. It may also discourage employers from hiring undocumented workers to avoid following labor laws.

Though a bill could drum up bipartisan support, even businesses currently mandated to use E-Verify struggle with the system at times. Small businesses are particularly concerned, as these companies rarely have the HR capacity to easily meet E-verify requirements at scale.

E-Verify also isn’t fool proof. The E-Verify site reports that 0.16% of cases where employee information is found to be mismatched — i.e. the employee is not initially confirmed to work legally — were later reversed due to clerical error. It’s a small percentage, but that error rate translates to over 60,000 workers per year whose ability to work is delayed unnecessarily. 

So, while leaders on both sides of the political spectrum support an online verification program, some believe that the system isn’t yet reliable enough to be mandatory at the national level.

Should you use E-Verify?

Begin by checking whether your state has E-Verify-related laws. While the 20 states we listed above mandate that at least some employers must use the system, they have different rules and exemptions for different types of businesses. If you’re not required by law to use E-Verify, consider the following questions before deciding whether or not to try it out. 

Time

The E-Verify enrollment process and training program requires program users — your HR department, hiring managers, etc. — to complete a class via webinar, video conference, or in-person session. Trainees must then pass a test to prove they can comply with the program’s requirements.

Additionally, each employee requires administrative time to enter I-9 information into the E-Verify program. Though individual responses appear in minutes, it can take time to confirm the status of a TNC and, if necessary, find a new employee should you fail to verify the new hire’s eligibility.

Compliance needs

Double-checking each employee’s immigration status could help your business avoid no-match letters, officially known as an Employee Correction Request notice. These notices occur when the wage and name information submitted at tax time does not match the information in the SSA database.

Business Size

It’s important to note that once you enroll in E-Verify, each new employee must be processed through the system. If you run a large company or a small business with frequent turnover, this means a large uptick in administrative work.

How to Use E-Verify

Should you decide that E-Verify is right for your business — or if your company is required to use the program — here’s how you can get started:

Enrollment and Training

Each company should begin by completing the enrollment forms for approval. The program requires you to assign administrators, sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU), and provide hiring site information plus a list of general business details. There are also system requirements you have to meet in order to use the program, most of which are fairly standard. Once approved, assigned administrators must train on the four modules of using E-Verify and complete a final test to prove their proficiency.

Note: Participating businesses must alert employees of their use of E-Verify by displaying notification and a right to work poster in their hiring center or providing notification in hiring materials.

Verification

When a new hire joins a company using E-Verify, the administrator opens a new case and enters the information from the employee’s I-9 form. This step must occur no less than three days after the employee begins work. E-Verify compares the I-9 data against that in the SSA and DHS database for a match. 

Employers will also be asked to compare a photo in the database’s system should the worker provide a U.S. passport or passport card a Permanent Resident Card, or an Employment Authorization Document.

Results

Once all information is entered, administrators will receive a message of “Employment Authorized,” “Verification in Process,” or “Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC).”

The first response confirms the authorization of the employee to begin work. Verification in Process alerts the business that the DHS must take a further look before confirming or denying authorization. And TNC alert means that action is required by the employer and employee to confirm why the I-9 data does not match the information in the DHS and/or SSA systems. Employers can then download a Further Action Notice in the language of their choice and must present it to the employee in question.

Case Closure

Each case must be closed for each employee entered into the system. In order to close out a case, the administrator must receive a status of:

  • Employment Authorized
  • Close Case and Resubmit: Used when errors occur on employee identification
  • Final Nonconfirmation: Employee is not confirmed for work and will not be hired

E-Verify for Your Business

Today, many businesses still have the choice to use the program if it fits the needs of their business structure. The program provides additional assurance of the authorization of their workers though does require additional time and an awareness of potential errors. The E-Verify website dives into all potential questions and concerns regarding enrollment and usage for both the employer and the employee.

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