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In the immigration reform bill being hammered out in Congress, one proposal that's not getting a lot of attention from employers yet -- but will if the bill passes -- is a requirement that employers use an electronic system to verify the work eligibility of prospective workers.
The Dept. of Homeland Security has been piloting an electronic employment eligibility verification system for several years now. And while that EEV system has seen its registered user base climb from about 6,200 employers last year to about 17,000 employers in May, the secure, Web-based system as it is today wasn't meant to support the 6 million-plus employers that would be mandated to use an EEV in three years if the current immigration reform provision pass, said Richard Stana, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues, in an interview.
Even today, although 17,000 employers are signed up to use the system, "less than 9,000 use it" regularly to check on the employment eligibility of workers, said Stana. What's considered regular use? "More than once in a while," he said.
When employers use the system today, it checks the work applicant's data -- such as name, date of birth, social security number, or alien identification number -- in systems of the Social Security Administration and Dept. of Homeland Security.
About 92% of those queries today are confirmed within seconds. However, the other 8% get "kicked out," and require additional verification with SSA or DHS. Some of those queries -- which might then require footwork by the employee or employer to get additional documentation -- get resolved in a day or two, while others take weeks, and some remain unconfirmed, said Stana.
The problem now, though, with EEV being voluntary is that sometimes an unconfirmed job candidate will try getting a job with another employer who's not using EEV, he said.
"Some employers have admitted to us that [EEV] today puts them at a competitive disadvantage," Stana said. That's because employers trying to play by the rules find themselves paying more in wages than employers who intentionally hire illegal aliens, he said. "Some landscaping employers who use EEV say they've lost prospective work because their labor costs are higher" than employers not using the system and hiring undocumented workers, he said.
Hotel chains are among the largest companies using the EEV system at least periodically, he said.
Earlier this month in testimony to the House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, Stana said that if EEV became mandatory, it would cost U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services up to $470 million annually to operate the expanded system. That would include about "$70 million annually for program management and $300 million to $400 million annually for compliance activities and staff, depending on the method for implementing the program," Stana testified.
In addition, "the costs associated with other programmatic and system enhancements are currently unknown," said Stana. SSA is currently refining its estimates and was not yet able to provide estimates for the cost of a mandatory EEV, he said. "According to SSA officials, the cost of a mandatory EEV would be driven by the field offices' increased workload required to resolve queries that SSA cannot immediately confirm," he testified.
If EEV becomes mandatory, the existing system is unlikely to be scaled up to handle the dramatic increase in volume, Stana said in an interview with InformationWeek. Rather, the current pilot system would "serve as a model" for a mandatory EEV.
"In every immigration reform proposal, this [mandatory EEV] has been an element," he said. "A reliable verification system is needed for immigration reform," in large part because of the competitive issues that employers face, he said.