On January 23, 2014, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that more than 500,000 companies now use E-Verify. E-Verify is an internet-based system that allows employers to verify a new hire’s work authorization by checking the employee’s information against Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and Social Security Administration (“SSA”) databases. At the federal level, participation in E-Verify is mandatory for federal government agencies and a few others, including businesses having contracts with federal agencies. Some states have also enacted laws mandating the use of E-Verify. For the rest of U.S. employers, however, E-Verify is voluntary.
E-Verify is particularly important for employers in certain industries where I-9 audits are more prevalent such as restaurant, hospitality, landscaping, agricultural and other types of industries requiring skilled manual labor workers for daily operations. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ramped up enforcement in recent years, focusing on auditing employers in the above industries. The fines that may be imposed range between $110 and $1,100 per form for substantive errors. The presence of unauthorized workers can lead to a significant enhancement of the fine amount. Knowingly employing unauthorized workers can not only lead to an increased monetary penalty, but may also result in criminal charges against the company’s management. Enrolling in E-Verify can help employers to identify unauthorized employees in a timely manner and to protect themselves from enhanced penalties in the event of a government audit.
Employment authorization of existing employees cannot be verified through E-Verify. Therefore, it is important to conduct a self-audit with the assistance of experienced immigration counsel who can assist with identifying unauthorized employees that may have presented false or forged documents that appear to be facially valid.