Alternative To Homeland Security's E-Verify System Proposed

Under the NEVA legislation, confirming whether a prospective employee can legally work in the United States would be based on the new hires registry database operated in each state.

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, Senior Writer, InformationWeek

February 27, 2008

4 Min Read

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives last week introduced the New Employee Verification Act, or NEVA, which would create an electronic system for employers to confirm whether a new worker can legally work in the United States.

NEVA proposes to replace the Department of Homeland Security's current E-Verify system, which was launched in 1996 as a pilot program. That system is used by only about 100,000 of the country's 7 million employers, according to Homeland Security. E-Verify is a voluntary system, but several states -- especially border states -- have been considering mandating its use as a way to prevent unlawful employment of undocumented immigrants.

Arizona is the first state to mandate E-Verify for all employers, and, in fact, the fiscal 2009 budget proposed by President Bush earlier this month seeks to increase funding by $40 million, up to $100 million, for Homeland Security to expand and promote the use of E-Verify. Homeland Security expects that 300,000 employers will be using E-Verify by 2009.

A more comprehensive immigration bill introduced last November in the House by Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., also proposes federally mandating employers use E-Verify for new hires and also existing workers. The Shuler bill, called "Secure America through Verification and Enforcement" (or SAVE for short), also proposes making E-Verify permanent -- the pilot is slated to "sunset" or end by 2008 unless extended by Congress.

However, human resources industry groups complain the E-Verify system -- which matches information presented by a job candidate with Social Security and Homeland Security databases to verify whether that candidate is authorized to work in the United States -- is error-prone and does not protect against identify fraud.

E-Verify has an error rate of about 4% for U.S. citizens and 10% for non-U.S citizens, which could potentially affect 6 million workers if that system is mandated nationwide, said Michael Aitken, director of government affairs for an HR professional industry organization, the Society for Human Resource Management.

It's not just HR industry groups that oppose the current E-Verify system. The state of Illinois last year signed a law prohibiting employers from using E-Verify because of problems such as susceptibility to identity fraud.

Under the NEVA legislation, a new Electronic Employment Verification System would be based on the new hires registry database operated in each state. The registry was established more than a decade ago as part of federal welfare reform and is already used by 90% of U.S. employers, according to a spokeswoman for Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, sponsor of NEVA and ranking member of the House Social Security Subcommittee. In addition to "pinging" data in the new hires directory, EEVS -- like E-Verify -- would also then match a new employee's information with data in Social Security and Homeland Security databases, if the person is not a U.S. citizen.

While the new EEVS wouldn't scrap the use of existing Social Security and Homeland Security databases for employment verification, a "major" provision in the NEVA legislation is providing unspecified funding to "clean up" the Social Security Administration's and Homeland Security's existing databases that are used by E-Verify.

That cleanup effort, for example, would be aimed at ensuring that Social Security databases reflect data that's accurate and up to date, including information such as whether a recently married woman has changed her last name on Social Security records.

That funding would include money to create a marketing and promotional campaign for U.S. citizens to ensure that the Social Security Administration has updated information on individuals, as well as provide funding to Social Security field offices to handle a higher volume of activity during the promotion and database cleanup.

Another provision of NEVA is giving employers the option of using new private-sector "identity authentication" companies that could deploy biometric technology -- called the "Secure Electronic Employment Verification" system -- to verify a new hire's identity through fingerprints, for example. Also, NEVA would also eliminate employer paperwork and employee documents that are part of the current E-Verify processes, said Aitken.

Finally, the bill would provide employers with safe harbors from prosecution if they follow NEVA law but unintentionally hire an illegal worker.

"We're hoping to build a better mousetrap," Aitken said.

About the Author(s)

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Senior Writer, InformationWeek

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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