E-Verify: worker status with a click of a mouse
Arizona law requires employers to use federal database to determine employee eligibility.
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Some 450,000 to 500,000 illegal immigrants live in Arizona, and most work in construction, agriculture, manufacturing, and leisure and hospitality industries, says Judith Gans, an immigration policy expert at the University of Arizona's Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, in Tucson. If the program is indeed prompting undocumented workers in Arizona to move on to other states in search of jobs or to return to their native countries – as Ms. Gans says the anecdotal evidence suggests – the state economy is likely to be affected.Skip to next paragraph
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"It will take time to disentangle what happens in those industries because of the absence of workers or how much of it is part of the general economic downturn we're experiencing," says Gans.
Worker status within seconds
Marcy Curtis, whose husband owns Rieth Auto Stores in Mesa, Ariz., signed up for E-Verify in October. She didn't have to use it, however, until last week, when Rieth hired its first new worker this year.
She sat down at her computer, rolled up her sleeves, and said a bit nervously, "Here goes." She entered her user name and password, as if signing onto her online bank account. Then the system prompted her to enter the new employee's name, gender, birth date, and Social Security number.
Within two seconds, "Employment Authorized" flashed on the screen.
"Wow," she says, "that's much easier than I thought it would be." Enrolling in the system had been much more cumbersome, she explains, and she had worried that this process would take time out of her workday that she doesn't have. Enrollment required her to read through about 150 pages of information, and then spend a couple of hours answering pretest questions and an online questionnaire.
"People forget that we have been in the midst of immigration reform debate for the past couple of years," says USCIS spokeswoman Marie Sebrechts. "Arizona in that sense was not difficult at all for us to absorb because we were expecting numbers to be much higher because of the pending [federal] legislation."
Johnson has voluntarily used E-Verify for the past two years. She says she was so worried after the initial surprise audit, then a letter a few years later from the Social Security Administration that questioned the documents eight of her employees had provided, that she was relieved to let the government be the judge of workers' documents.
Johnson says the biggest benefit to her is that ineligible employees don't apply in the numbers they once did.
"Probably 70 to 80 percent of employees were declined when I first started using it," Johnson says. "Word gets out in the Latino community that you're going to verify legality. Now it's like 10 percent are declined."
In her experience, she says, E-Verify has worked effectively and quickly, but she has encountered two mistakes. Both times prospective employees' requests came back as "tentative nonconfirmations" either because their birth dates didn't match their names or because their Social Security numbers didn't match their names. Sometimes, she says, it's simply a matter of retesting: Hispanics often have more than two names, and the key is to find out which one the government recognizes. Other times, those who have become naturalized US citizens just haven't reported that status to the Social Security Administration, which ties that information to the numbers.
Johnson says that in both cases the employees insisted they were legal, so she called USCIS and within minutes was able to verify their legal status.
According to Sebrechts of the USCIS, 93 percent of employers' queries are instantly verified as work-authorized, and 7 percent come back as tentative nonconfirmations. The employer notifies the prospective employee of that status, and the employee can contest, as in the case of Johnson's employees, or may just walk away if he or she is indeed not authorized to work in the US.