Lang Wallace LLC Blog

Friday, February 4, 2011


Executive Summary

E-Verify, formerly titled the Basic Pilot Program, is an Internet-based program that allows participating employers to electronically verify the work-authorization status of new hires. After employers enter data from the Form I-9 into E-Verify, the data are compared electronically with data in Social Security Administration records and in Department of Homeland Security immigration records. Typically (96.9 percent of queries in July through September 2008) employees are automatically confirmed as work authorized either immediately or within 24 hours, requiring no employee or employer action.1 If problems are found, then employers are required to notify workers and give them an opportunity to contest the initial finding.

Past surveys of E-Verify users have shown high levels of satisfaction. However, as of 2009, less than 3 percent of all employers in the United States participate in E-Verify. Many policymakers have looked for ways to reduce unauthorized employment, including State law mandates to participate in E-Verify for all employers (in Arizona and Mississippi) or selected groups of employers (in 11 states and in the Federal government, which requires participation by certain Federal contractors). This study was designed to determine why employers do not participate in E-Verify, what factors they desire in E-Verify, and what they think about a mandatory program.

This report presents the results of a nationwide survey of nonusers—i.e., companies that have never signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to participate in E-Verify. The response rate was too low to provide reliable national estimates; however, several broad patterns can be detected from the 511 respondents if the survey is treated as a case study. Therefore, this report treats the results as a case study and supplements the survey of nonusers with results from focus groups of additional nonusers.

The principal barrier to participation in E-Verify appears to be a lack of awareness of the Program. Among the case study participants, 63 percent were not familiar with E-Verify. Case study participants were often positive about the characteristics of E-Verify, and among the 101 who answered a question concerning their future plans, 23 percent definitely planned to participate in E-Verify in the future (while 32 percent would not participate unless mandated to do so). For those employers who have heard of E-Verify, the information often came from nongovernmental sources such as professional organizations.

The other primary reasons for not participating were not perceiving a benefit from participating, and thinking it would be too costly or time-consuming to participate. The perception of burden is based in part on employers’ reported negative experiences with other government Internet-based programs (such as the Social Security Administration/Business Services Online Website).

The case study participants supported many program changes to E-Verify, with the most popular including the increased use of technology to identify fraudulent documents and to verify identity, allowing a formal appeal by an employer and/or employee of a final case finding, and allowing verification of job applicants before a job decision is made.

The case study participants generally opposed creating a mandatory program for all employers, particularly for small business owners. A substantial minority said they lacked sufficient resources to participate, with about one-fourth of the case study participants saying they did not have staff with sufficient skills available and about one-tenth of small businesses saying they lacked computers with an Internet connection or their connection was very slow. E-Verify may have less impact on employment for very small businesses, which often reported that they rarely hired new employees and had no noncitizens as employees.

Westat recommends that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services explore ways of increasing awareness of E-Verify, including through alternative sources such as nongovernmental organizations. Also, participation in E-Verify might be increased by adopting some of the program changes supported by employers, recognizing that these changes must be weighed against potentially competing priorities (such as privacy and discrimination concerns) and can only be implemented if legally authorized and technically feasible, and by addressing the perceptions of a lack of benefit from the Program and the perceived burden. A mandatory program appears necessary if the desire is to get all employers to participate; however, substantial increases in participation appear possible without a mandate. Based on the input for this study, a mandatory program may be burdensome for some employers.


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