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Mandatory Electronic Employment Verification System' which was released 
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Statement for the Record: 

To the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border 
Security, and International Law, Committee on the Judiciary, House of 
Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

For Release on Delivery Expected at 9:00 a.m. EDT: 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008: 

Employment Verification: 

Challenges Exist in Implementing a Mandatory Electronic Employment 
Verification System: 

Statement for the Record by Richard M. Stana, Director Homeland 
Security and Justice Issues: 

GAO-08-895T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-08-895T, a statement for the record to the 
Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, 
and International Law, Committee on the Judiciary, House of 
Representatives. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

In 1996, the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, now 
within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Social 
Security Administration (SSA) began operating a voluntary pilot 
program, recently named the E-Verify program, to provide participating 
employers with a means for electronically verifying employees’ work 
eligibility. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to require all 
employers to electronically verify the work authorization status of 
their employees. In this statement GAO provides observations on the E-
Verify system’s capacity and costs, options for reducing delays and 
improving efficiency in the verification process, ability to detect 
fraudulent documents and identity theft, and vulnerability to employer 
fraud and misuse. This statement is based on GAO’s products issued from 
August 2005 through June 2007 and updated information obtained from DHS 
and SSA in April 2008. We analyzed data on employer use, E-Verify 
guidance, and other reports on the employment verification process, as 
well as legislative proposals and regulations. 

What GAO Found: 

A mandatory E-Verify program would necessitate an increased capacity at 
both U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and SSA to 
accommodate the estimated 7.4 million employers in the United States. 
According to USCIS, as of April 2008, more than 61,000 employers have 
registered for E-Verify, and about half are active users. Although DHS 
has not prepared official cost figures, USCIS officials estimated that 
a mandatory E-Verify program could cost a total of about $765 million 
for fiscal years 2009 through 2012 if only newly hired employees are 
queried through the program and about $838 million over the same 4-year 
period if both newly hired and current employees are queried. USCIS has 
estimated that it would need additional staff for a mandatory E-Verify 
program, but was not yet able to provide estimates for its staffing 
needs. SSA has estimated that implementation of a mandatory E-Verify 
program would cost a total of about $281 million and require hiring 700 
new employees for a total of 2,325 additional workyears for fiscal 
years 2009 through 2013. 

USCIS and SSA are exploring options to reduce delays and improve 
efficiency in the E-Verify process. The majority of E-Verify queries 
entered by employers—about 92 percent—confirm within seconds that the 
employee is work-authorized. About 7 percent of the queries cannot be 
immediately confirmed as work authorized by SSA, and about 1 percent 
cannot be immediately confirmed as work authorized by USCIS because 
employees’ information queried through the system does not match 
information in SSA or DHS databases. The majority of SSA erroneous 
tentative nonconfirmations occur because employees’ citizenship or 
other information, such as name changes, is not up to date in the SSA 
database, generally because individuals do not request that SSA make 
these updates. USCIS and SSA are planning to implement initiatives to 
help address these weaknesses and reduce delays. 

E-Verify may help employers detect fraudulent documents thereby 
reducing such fraud, but it cannot yet fully address identity fraud 
issues, for example when employees present genuine documents that may 
be stolen. USCIS has added a photograph screening tool to E-Verify 
through which an employer verifies the authenticity of certain 
documents, such as an employment authorization document, by matching 
the photograph on the document with the photograph in DHS databases. 
USCIS is exploring options to expand this tool to include other forms 
of documentation, such as passports, with databases that store 
photographic information, but these efforts are in the planning stages 
and require decisions about data sharing and privacy issues. 

E-Verify is vulnerable to acts of employer fraud and misuse, such as 
employers limiting employees’ pay during the E-Verify process. USCIS 
has established a branch to review employers’ use of E-Verify. In 
addition, information suggesting employers’ fraud or misuse can be 
useful to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in targeting 
worksite enforcement resources. USCIS and ICE are negotiating a 
memorandum of understanding to define roles and responsibilities for 
sharing information. 

What GAO Recommends: 

In 2005, we recommended that DHS include an assessment of the 
feasibility and costs of addressing program weaknesses, such as 
inability to detect identity fraud, in a planned evaluation of the 
program. DHS implemented this recommendation. This statement contains 
no new recommendations. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-08-895T]. For more information, 
contact Richard M. Stana at (202) 512-8777 or stanar@gao.gov 

[End of section] 

Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member King, and Members of the Subcommittee: 

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on electronic employment 
verification issues. As we and others have reported in the past, the 
opportunity for employment is one of the most powerful magnets 
attracting unauthorized immigrants to the United States. To help 
address this issue, in 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Reform and 
Control Act (IRCA), which made it illegal for individuals and entities 
to knowingly hire, continue to employ, or recruit or refer for a fee 
unauthorized workers.[Footnote 1] The act established a two-pronged 
approach for helping to limit the employment of unauthorized workers: 
(1) an employment verification process through which employers verify 
all newly hired employees' work eligibility and (2) a sanctions program 
for fining employers who do not comply with the act.[Footnote 2] 

Following the passage of IRCA, the U.S. Commission on Immigration 
Reform and various immigration experts indicated a number of problems 
with the implementation of immigration policies and concluded that 
deterring illegal immigration requires, among other things, strategies 
involving a more reliable employment eligibility verification process 
that focuses on disrupting the ability of unauthorized immigrants to 
gain employment. In particular, the commission report and other studies 
found that the single most important step that could be taken to reduce 
unlawful migration is the development of a more effective system for 
verifying work authorization. In the over 20 years since passage of 
IRCA, the employment eligibility verification process has remained 
largely unchanged. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to 
reform immigration laws and strengthen electronic employment 
verification. Some of this legislation includes proposals that would 
require employers to use a mandatory, functional electronic employment 
verification program for verifying the work authorization of all newly 
hired employees. Some of these proposals would also require employers 
to use an electronic employment verification program to verify the work 
authorization status of existing employees. In addition, some proposals 
would provide sanctions for employers who do not use electronic 
verification to verify the work authorization status of employees 
equivalent to sanctions for employers who do not comply with the 
employment verification process established by IRCA. 

Currently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a 
component within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in 
conjunction with the Social Security Administration (SSA), operates a 
voluntary electronic employment verification program, called E-Verify. 
While participation in this program remains voluntary, some states are 
moving to require all employers in the state to verify newly hired 
employees using E-Verify. For example, as of January 1, 2008, the 
"Legal Arizona Workers Act" requires all employers in Arizona to verify 
the employment eligibility of newly hired employees through the E- 
Verify program. This act also provides civil penalties, including the 
possible suspension or permanent revocation of all Arizona business 
licenses, for employers who are found to intentionally or knowingly 
employ an unauthorized alien. In 2008, Mississippi passed the 
"Mississippi Employment Protection Act," under which the state will 
phase in mandatory newly hired employee eligibility verification with E-
Verify for all employers between July 1, 2008, and July 1, 2011. Other 
states, including Idaho, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Oklahoma, require 
employers in certain sectors, such as government employers and 
contractors, to verify their employees' work authorization status. 

This statement is an update of our prior work regarding employment 
verification and worksite enforcement. Specifically, this statement 
includes our observations on the E-Verify program's capacity and costs, 
options for reducing delays and improving efficiency in the 
verification process, ability to detect fraudulent documents and 
identity theft, and vulnerability to employer fraud and misuse. 

In preparing this statement, we reviewed our past work on employment 
verification and worksite enforcement efforts.[Footnote 3] In April 
2008, we updated information from our past work. Specifically, we 
analyzed updated information provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs 
Enforcement (ICE), USCIS, and SSA officials on the E-Verify program and 
challenges their agencies may face if an electronic employment 
verification program were made mandatory. We examined legislative 
proposals, regulations, guidance, and other studies on the employment 
verification process. We also analyzed a report on the results of an 
independent evaluation of the E-Verify program, then known as the Basic 
Pilot program, issued by Westat Corporation, a contractor evaluating 
the program, in September 2007.[Footnote 4] We reviewed the scope and 
methodology used by Westat in conducting the evaluation and, based on 
this review, found that the report findings were sufficiently reliable 
to provide a general indication of the types of ways in which employers 
have used the program. Furthermore, we received updated data on 
employer use of the current electronic employment eligibility 
verification system. We reviewed these data for accuracy and 
completeness and determined that these data were sufficiently reliable 
for the purposes of our review. We conducted these performance audits 
and our 2008 update in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform 
the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a 
reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit 
objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable 
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

Summary: 

A mandatory E-Verify program would necessitate an increased capacity at 
both USCIS and SSA to accommodate the estimated 7.4 million employers 
in the United States.[Footnote 5]As of April 2008, more than 61,000 
employers have registered for E-Verify, about half of whom have been 
active users. Under a mandatory E-Verify program, USCIS has estimated 
that annual employer queries of newly hired employees would be an 
average of 63 million. USCIS has tested the E-Verify computer system 
and found that the system could process up to 240 million queries per 
year with the purchase of five additional servers. A mandatory E-Verify 
program would require additional USCIS and SSA resources to operate the 
program, including conducting monitoring and compliance and status 
verification activities. Although DHS has not prepared official cost 
figures, USCIS officials estimated that a mandatory E-Verify program 
could cost a total of about $765 million for fiscal years 2009 through 
2012 if only newly hired employees are queried through the program and 
about $838 million over the same 4-year period if both newly hired and 
current employees are queried. USCIS has estimated that it would need 
additional staff for a mandatory E-Verify program, but was not yet able 
to provide estimates for its staffing needs. USCIS has 121 E-Verify 
staff nationwide and, according to the agency, would increase its 
staffing level based on a formula that considers monitoring and 
compliance and status verification staffing needs as the number of 
employers using E-Verify increases. SSA has estimated that expansion of 
a mandatory E-Verify program would cost a total of about $281 million 
for fiscal years 2009 through 2013 and require hiring 700 new employees 
for a total of 2,325 additional workyears over the same 5-year period. 

USCIS and SSA are exploring options to reduce delays and improve 
efficiency in the E-Verify process. According to USCIS, under the 
current voluntary program the majority of E-Verify queries entered by 
employers--about 92 percent--confirm within seconds that the employee 
is authorized to work. About 7 percent of the queries cannot be 
immediately confirmed as work authorized by SSA, and about 1 percent 
cannot be immediately confirmed as work authorized by USCIS because the 
employee information queried through the program does not match 
information in SSA or DHS databases.[Footnote 6] With regard to SSA 
tentative nonconfirmations, USCIS and SSA officials told us that the 
majority of erroneous tentative nonconfirmations occur because 
employees' citizenship or other information, such as name changes, is 
not up to date in the SSA database, generally because individuals have 
not contacted SSA to update their information when changes occurred. 
USCIS and SSA are planning to implement various initiatives to help 
address these weaknesses and reduce delays in the verification process. 
For example, in May 2008 USCIS implemented an initiative to modify the 
electronic verification process so that employees whose naturalized 
citizenship status cannot be confirmed by SSA will be also checked 
against DHS databases, helping to reduce the number of naturalized 
citizens who would need to visit an SSA office to resolve a tentative 
nonconfirmation and improving efficiency in the verification process. 

E-Verify may help employers detect fraudulent documents, thereby 
reducing such fraud, but it cannot yet fully address identity fraud 
issues, for example, when employees present borrowed or stolen genuine 
documents. USCIS has taken steps to improve E-Verify's ability to help 
reduce fraud. For example, USCIS has added a photograph screening tool 
to E-Verify through which an employer verifies the authenticity of 
certain DHS-issued identity documents, such as an employment 
authorization document, by matching the photograph on the card or 
document with the photograph stored in DHS databases. USCIS is 
exploring options for expanding this tool to include other forms of 
documentation with related databases that store photographic 
information, such as passports issued by the Department of State and 
driver's licenses issued by states. These efforts are in the planning 
stages and require policy decisions regarding data-sharing processes 
and consideration of privacy issues. 

E-Verify is also vulnerable to acts of employer fraud and misuse, such 
as employers limiting work assignments or pay while employees undergo 
the verification process, that can adversely affect employees queried 
through the E-Verify program. USCIS has taken actions to help address 
employer fraud and misuse by, for example, establishing a Monitoring 
and Compliance branch to review employers' use of the E-Verify program. 
USCIS is working to staff this office and implement monitoring and 
compliance activities. However, these implementation efforts are in the 
early stages, and it is too early to tell whether these efforts will 
fully ensure that all employers are properly using E-Verify and 
following requirements under a mandatory program. In addition, 
information suggesting employer fraud or misuse of the system could be 
useful to other DHS components in targeting worksite enforcement 
resources and promoting employer compliance with employment laws. Under 
the current voluntary program, case referrals and requests for 
information between ICE and USCIS have been infrequent and informal. 
ICE and USCIS are negotiating a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to 
define roles, responsibilities, and mechanisms for sharing E-Verify 
data, and USCIS is developing a system for tracking case referrals made 
to ICE. 

Background: 

In 1986, IRCA established the employment verification process based on 
employers' review of documents presented by employees to prove identity 
and work eligibility. On the Form I-9, employees must attest that they 
are U.S. citizens, lawfully admitted permanent residents, or aliens 
authorized to work in the United States. Employers must then certify 
that they have reviewed the documents presented by their employees to 
establish identity and work eligibility and that the documents appear 
genuine and relate to the individual presenting them. In making their 
certifications, employers are expected to judge whether the documents 
presented are obviously counterfeit or fraudulent. Employers are 
required to retain the Form I-9 and provide it, upon request, to 
officers of the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor and the 
Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration 
Related Unfair Employment Practices for inspection.[Footnote 7] 
Employers generally are deemed in compliance with IRCA if they have 
followed the Form I-9 process, including when an unauthorized alien 
presents fraudulent documents that appear genuine. Following the 
passage of IRCA in 1986, employees could present 29 different documents 
to establish their identity and/or work eligibility. In a 1997 interim 
rule, the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) 
reduced the number of acceptable work eligibility documents from 29 to 
27.[Footnote 8] 

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act 
(IIRIRA)[Footnote 9] of 1996 required the former INS and SSA to operate 
three voluntary pilot programs to test electronic means for employers 
to verify an employee's eligibility to work, one of which was the Basic 
Pilot Program.[Footnote 10] The Basic Pilot Program was designed to 
test whether pilot verification procedures could improve the existing 
employment verification process by reducing (1) false claims of U.S. 
citizenship and document fraud, (2) discrimination against employees, 
(3) violations of civil liberties and privacy, and (4) the burden on 
employers to verify employees' work eligibility. 

In 2007, USCIS renamed the Basic Pilot Program the Employment 
Eligibility Verification program and later in the year changed the name 
to E-Verify. E-Verify provides participating employers with an 
electronic method to verify their employees' work eligibility. 
Regardless of whether employers participate voluntarily in E-Verify, 
they are still required to complete Forms I-9 for all newly hired 
employees in accordance with IRCA. After completing the forms, those 
employers participating in the program query E-Verify's automated 
system by entering employee information provided on the forms, such as 
name and social security number, into the E-Verify Web site within 3 
days of the employee's start date. The program then electronically 
matches that information against information in SSA's Numident database 
and, if necessary, DHS databases to determine whether the employee is 
eligible to work.[Footnote 11] E-Verify electronically notifies 
employers whether their employees' work authorization was confirmed. 
Those queries that the DHS automated check cannot confirm are referred 
to USCIS staff, called immigration status verifiers, who check employee 
information against information in other DHS databases. The E-Verify 
program process is shown in figure 1. 

Figure 1: E-Verify Program Verification Process: 

This figure is a flowchart showing the E-Verify Program Verification 
Process. 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis based on USCOS information. 

[End of figure] 

In cases when E-Verify cannot confirm an employee's work authorization 
status either through the automatic check or the check by an 
immigration status verifier, the system issues the employer a tentative 
nonconfirmation of the employee's work authorization status. In this 
case, the employers must notify the affected employees of the finding, 
and the employees have the right to contest their tentative 
nonconfirmations by contacting SSA or USCIS to resolve any inaccuracies 
in their records within 8 federal working days. During this time, 
employers may not take any adverse actions against those employees, 
such as limiting their work assignments or pay. After 8 days, employers 
are required to either immediately terminate the employment, or notify 
DHS of the continued employment, of workers who do not successfully 
contest the tentative nonconfirmation and those whom the program finds 
are not work-authorized.[Footnote 12] 

The E-Verify program uses the same system as USCIS's Systematic Alien 
Verification for Entitlements Program, which provides a variety of 
verification services for federal, state, and local government 
agencies. USCIS estimates that more than 150,000 federal, state, and 
local agency users verify immigration status through the Systematic 
Alien Verification for Entitlements Program. SSA also operates the Web- 
based Social Security Number Verification Service, which employers can 
use to assure that employees' names and social security numbers match 
SSA's records. This service, designed to ensure accurate employer wage 
reporting, is offered free of charge. Employer use is voluntary, and 
approximately 12,000 employers requested more than 25.7 million 
verifications in 2005, according to the SSA Office of the Inspector 
General.[Footnote 13] 

USCIS contracted for an independent evaluation of the E-Verify program. 
Westat, the organization that conducted the evaluation, issued a report 
on its evaluation findings in September 2007. According to this report, 
the Westat evaluation examined how well the federal government 
implemented modifications made to the original Basic Pilot Program and 
the extent to which the program met its goals to (1) reduce employment 
of unauthorized workers, (2) reduce discrimination, (3) protect 
employee civil liberties and privacy, and (4) prevent undue burden on 
employers. Based on its findings, Westat made recommendations to USCIS 
and SSA intended to help improve the program. 

Mandatory E-Verify Will Require an Increase in Capacity at USCIS and 
SSA: 

Mandatory electronic employment verification would substantially 
increase the number of employers using the E-Verify program, which 
would place greater demands on USCIS and SSA resources. As of April 
2008, more than 61,000 employers have registered to use the program, 
about 28,000 of whom were active users, according to USCIS.[Footnote 
14] USCIS has estimated that approximately 4,000 employers are 
registering per month. In fiscal year 2007, USCIS processed about 3.2 
million employer queries and for the first 6 months of fiscal year 
2008, processed about 2.6 million queries. If participation in the E- 
Verify program were made mandatory, the program would have to 
accommodate all of the estimated 7.4 million employers in the United 
States. USCIS has projected that employers would submit an average of 
63 million queries on newly hired employees per year under a mandatory 
E-Verify program.[Footnote 15] USCIS officials stated that they have 
tested the capacity of the E-Verify computer system to handle about 
four times the projected load of queries that would occur if E-Verify 
participation were made mandatory for all employers. These tests showed 
that the E-Verify system can process up to 240 million queries per 
year, with the purchase of 5 additional servers, exceeding USCIS's 
projection of an average of 63 million queries per year under a 
mandatory E-Verify program.[Footnote 16] 

USCIS has developed cost and staffing estimates for operating a 
mandatory E-Verify program. Although DHS has not prepared official cost 
figures, USCIS officials estimated that a mandatory E-Verify program 
could cost a total of about $765 million for fiscal years 2009 through 
2012 if only newly hired employees are queried through the program and 
about $838 million over the same 4-year period if both newly hired and 
current employees are queried.[Footnote 17] Mandatory implementation of 
E-Verify would also require additional USCIS staff to administer the 
program, but USCIS was not yet able to provide estimates for its 
staffing needs. Under the voluntary program, USCIS operated E-Verify 
with 12 headquarters staff members in 2005, which has grown to about 
121 full-time employees nationwide, with 21 staff members for 
monitoring and compliance and 11 for status verification operations. 
According to USCIS, the agency would increase its staffing level based 
on a formula that considers monitoring and compliance and status 
verification staffing needs as the number of employers using E-Verify 
increases. 

A mandatory E-Verify program would also require an increase in SSA's 
resource and staffing requirements. SSA has estimated that 
implementation of a mandatory E-Verify program would cost a total of 
about $281 million for fiscal years 2009 through 2013 and require 
hiring 700 new employees for a total of 2,325 additional workyears over 
the same 5-year period.[Footnote 18] According to SSA, these estimates 
represent costs if the current E-Verify system is expanded, and any 
changes to the current process could have significant additional costs 
to the agency. The estimates include costs for start-up, such as system 
upgrades, training for current SSA employees, and training, space, and 
workstations for new employees, and ongoing activities, such as field 
office visits and system maintenance. SSA's estimates assume that under 
a mandatory expansion of the current E-Verify program, for every 100 E- 
Verify queries, about 1.4 individuals will contact SSA regarding a 
tentative nonconfirmation.[Footnote 19] According to SSA officials, the 
cost of mandatory E-Verify would be driven by the increased workload of 
its field office staff due to resolving SSA tentative nonconfirmations, 
as well as some of the computer systems improvements and upgrades that 
SSA would need to implement to address the capacity of a federal 
mandatory program. Moreover, the final number of new full-time staff 
required would depend on both the legislative requirements for 
implementing mandatory E-Verify and the effectiveness of efforts USCIS 
has underway to decrease the need for individuals to visit SSA field 
offices. SSA officials told us that SSA would need time and a phased-in 
approach for implementation of a mandatory E-Verify program in order to 
handle the increased workload for SSA field offices. 

USCIS and SSA Are Implementing Plans to Reduce Delays and Improve 
Efficiency in the E-Verify Process: 

In prior work, we reported that secondary verifications lengthen the 
time needed to complete the employment verification process. The 
majority of E-Verify queries entered by employers--about 92 percent-- 
confirm the employee is authorized to work within seconds. About 7 
percent of queries are not confirmed by the initial automated check and 
result in SSA tentative nonconfirmations, while about 1 percent result 
in DHS tentative nonconfirmations.[Footnote 20] With regard to the SSA 
tentative nonconfirmations, USCIS officials told us that the majority 
of erroneous tentative nonconfirmations occur because employees' 
citizenship status or other information, such as name changes, is not 
up to date in the SSA database, generally because individuals have not 
notified SSA of information changes that occurred. SSA updates its 
records to reflect changes in individuals' information, such as 
citizenship status or name, when individuals request that SSA make such 
updates. USCIS officials stated that, for example, when aliens become 
naturalized citizens, their citizenship status, updated in DHS 
databases, is not automatically updated in the SSA database. When these 
individuals' information is queried through E-Verify, a tentative 
nonconfirmation would be issued because under the current E-Verify 
process, those queries would only check against SSA's database; they 
would not automatically check against DHS's databases. Therefore, these 
individuals would have to go to an SSA field office to correct their 
records in SSA's database. 

USCIS and SSA are planning to implement initiatives to help address SSA 
tentative nonconfirmations, particularly those issued for naturalized 
citizens, with a goal of reducing the need for employees to visit SSA 
field offices. For example, in May 2008 USCIS launched an initiative to 
modify the electronic verification process so that employees whose 
naturalized citizenship status cannot be confirmed by SSA will also be 
checked against DHS's databases.[Footnote 21] A query that could not be 
confirmed by SSA would be automatically checked against DHS's 
databases. If the employee's information matched information in DHS's 
databases and the databases showed that the person was a naturalized 
U.S. citizen, E-Verify would confirm the employee as work authorized. 
USCIS and SSA intend for this modification to enable USCIS to check 
naturalization status before an SSA tentative nonconfirmation is issued 
as a result of the naturalized citizen's information not matching 
citizenship information in SSA's database. According to USCIS, this 
should help eliminate the need for the employee who is a naturalized 
citizen to travel to an SSA field office before being confirmed as work 
authorized. USCIS has projected that as it implements this 
modification, the number of tentative nonconfirmations should also be 
reduced. It remains to be seen by how much the number of tentative 
nonconfirmations will be reduced as a result of this modification. 
Furthermore, in May 2008 USCIS modified the E-Verify process so that 
naturalized citizens who receive a citizenship-related mismatch can 
call DHS directly to resolve this mismatch rather than having to visit 
an SSA field office in-person to resolve the mismatch. In addition 
USCIS and SSA are exploring options for updating SSA records with 
naturalization information from DHS records. Although this could help 
to further reduce the number of SSA tentative nonconfirmations, USCIS 
and SSA are still in the planning stages, and implementation of this 
initiative may require significant policy and technical considerations, 
such as how to link records in SSA and DHS databases that are stored 
according to different identifiers.[Footnote 22] 

USCIS and SSA are also implementing additional options to reduce delays 
and improve the efficiency of the verification process. USCIS stated 
that it is adding databases to the E-Verify program, increasing the 
number of databases against which queries of employees' information are 
checked. For example, USCIS stated that it is incorporating real-time 
arrival data for noncitizens from the Inter-Agency Border Inspection 
System (IBIS) database, which tracks individuals, to help reduce the 
number of tentative nonconfirmations issued for newly arrived 
noncitizens queried through E-Verify.[Footnote 23] SSA has also 
coordinated with USCIS to develop an automated notification capability, 
known as the Employment Verification SSA Tentative Nonconfirmation 
Automated Response (EV-STAR) system. This system, available in all SSA 
field offices, became operational in October 2007 and allows SSA field 
office staff to view the same information that is provided to employers 
through E-Verify. In addition, SSA field office staff can notify the 
employer of the status of and any actions taken on the employee's 
record to resolve the tentative nonconfirmation and, through EV-STAR, 
this information is directly updated in E-Verify.[Footnote 24] USCIS 
and SSA officials stated that EV-STAR has helped to reduce the burden 
on SSA, employers, and employees in resolving SSA tentative 
nonconfirmations. These efforts may help improve the efficiency of the 
verification process. However, they will not entirely eliminate the 
need for some individuals to visit SSA field offices to update their 
records, as USCIS and SSA efforts do not address all types of changes 
that may occur in individuals' information and result in the issuance 
of tentative nonconfirmations, such as individuals' name changes. 

USCIS has Identified Areas where E-Verify is Vulnerable to Fraud, but 
Proposed Actions Do Not Address All Types of Fraud and Raise Privacy 
Concerns: 

In our prior work, we reported that E-Verify enhances the ability of 
participating employers to reliably verify their employees' work 
eligibility.[Footnote 25] The program also assists participating 
employers with identification of false documents used to attempt to 
obtain employment. When newly hired employees present false 
information, E-Verify will not confirm the employees' work eligibility 
because their information, such as a false name or social security 
number, would not match SSA and DHS databases. However, the current E- 
Verify program cannot help employers detect forms of identity fraud, 
such as cases in which an individual presents genuine documents that 
are borrowed or stolen because the system will verify an employee when 
the information entered matches DHS and SSA records, even if the 
information belongs to another person. 

USCIS has taken steps to reduce fraud associated with the use of 
genuine documents in which the original photograph is substituted for 
another. A photograph screening tool was incorporated into E-Verify in 
September 2007 and is accessible for most employers registered to use E-
Verify.[Footnote 26] According to USCIS officials, the photograph 
screening tool is intended to allow an employer to verify the 
authenticity of a lawful permanent resident card ("green card") or an 
employment authorization document, both of which contain photographs of 
the document holder. As a part of the E-Verify program, the photograph 
screening tool is used in cases when an employee presents a green card 
or employment authorization document to prove his or her work 
eligibility. The employer then inputs the card number into E-Verify, 
and the system then retrieves a copy of the employee's photograph that 
is stored in DHS databases through the photograph screening tool. The 
employer is then supposed to match the photograph shown on the computer 
screen with the photograph on the original or photocopy of the 
employee's lawful permanent resident card or employment authorization 
document and make a determination as to whether the photographs 
match.[Footnote 27] In completing the Form I-9, the employer is 
required to review the documents presented by an employee to prove 
identity and work eligibility and to certify that the documents appear 
genuine and relate to the individual presenting them. According to 
USCIS, for about 5 percent of employee queries that are run through E- 
Verify, employees present a green card or employment authorization 
document as identification.[Footnote 28] 

The use of the photograph screening tool is currently limited because 
newly hired employees who are queried through the E-Verify system and 
present documentation other than green cards or employment 
authorization documents to verify work eligibility--about 95 percent of 
E-Verify queries--are not subject to the tool. Expansion of the 
photograph screening tool would require incorporating other forms of 
documentation with related databases that store photographic 
information, such as passports issued by the Department of State and 
driver's licenses issued by states. Efforts to expand the tool have 
been initiated, but are still in the early planning stages. For 
example, according to USCIS officials, USCIS and the Department of 
State have begun exploring ways to include visa and U.S. passport 
documents in the tool, but these agencies have not yet reached 
agreement regarding the use of these documents. The Department of State 
is working with DHS to determine the business processes and system 
requirements of linking passport and visa databases to E-Verify. 
Additionally, USCIS is negotiating with state motor vehicle 
associations to incorporate driver's license photographs into E-Verify, 
and is seeking state motor vehicle agencies that are willing to 
participate in an image-sharing pilot program. As of April 2008, no 
motor vehicle agencies have yet officially agreed to participate in the 
pilot program. 

As USCIS works to address fraud through data sharing with other 
agencies, privacy issues--particularly in regards to sharing employee 
information with employers--may be a challenge. In its 2007 evaluation 
of E-Verify, Westat reported that some employers joining the Web Basic 
Pilot were not appropriately handling their employees' personal 
information. For example, some employers did not privately inform 
employees that queries of the employees' information through E-Verify 
resulted in tentative nonconfirmations. The report also pointed out 
that anyone wanting access to the system could pose as an employer and 
obtain access by signing a MOU with the E-Verify program. USCIS 
officials told us that taking actions to ensure that employers are 
legitimate when they register for E-Verify is a long term goal for the 
program. However, according to USCIS officials, implementing such 
controls to verify employer authenticity may require access to 
information from other agencies, such as Internal Revenue Service- 
issued employer identification numbers, to which USCIS currently does 
not have access. Additionally, some states and agencies have raised the 
issue of employee privacy. Representatives of motor vehicle agencies 
have expressed concerns in regards to the potential threats to customer 
privacy should their digital images be accessible to employers. USCIS 
is working to address these privacy concerns. However, it remains to be 
seen whether USCIS will be able to fully address all privacy concerns 
related to data and photograph sharing and use among agencies and 
employers. 

While USCIS Created a Monitoring and Compliance Branch, Work Remains to 
Staff the Branch, Develop Tools, and Finalize Enforcement Protocols: 

E-Verify is vulnerable to acts of employer fraud, such as when the 
employer enters the same identity information to authorize multiple 
workers. Moreover, although Westat has found that most participating 
employers comply with E-Verify program procedures, some employers have 
not complied or have misused the program, which may adversely affect 
employees. The findings from the Westat report showed that while 
changes to the E-Verify program appear to have increased employer 
compliance with program procedures compared to the previous version of 
the program, employer noncompliance still occurred. For example, Westat 
reported that some employers used E-Verify to screen job applicants 
before they were hired, an activity that is prohibited under E-Verify 
procedures. Additionally, some employers took prohibited adverse 
actions against employees--such as restricting work assignments, 
reducing pay, or requiring employees to work longer hours or in poor 
conditions--while they were contesting tentative nonconfirmations. 
Finally, Westat found that some employers did not always promptly 
terminate employees after receiving confirmation that the employees 
were not authorized to work in the United States. USCIS reported that 
it is working to address these issues by, for example, conducting 
education and outreach activities about the E-Verify program. 

In 2005, we reported that E-Verify provided a variety of reports that 
could help USCIS determine whether employers followed program 
requirements intended to safeguard employees--such as informing 
employees of tentative nonconfirmation results and referring employees 
contesting tentative nonconfirmations to SSA or DHS--but that USCIS 
lacked sufficient staff to review employers' use of the program. Since 
then, USCIS has added staff to its Verification Office, created a 
Monitoring and Compliance branch to review employers' use of the E- 
Verify system, and identified planned activities for the 
branch.[Footnote 29] As of April 2008, the Monitoring and Compliance 
branch had 21 staff and planned to hire 32 additional staff in fiscal 
years 2008 and 2009. Additionally, by January 2009, USCIS plans to 
establish a regional verification office with 135 staff members to 
conduct status verification and monitoring and compliance 
activities.[Footnote 30] 

With regard to compliance and monitoring activities, USCIS has 
identified 53 employer and employee behaviors of noncompliance and 
monitors the program for some of these behaviors. These behaviors 
include, among others, 

* the use of counterfeit documents or substituted identities; 

* use of the E-Verify system that does not follow procedures identified 
in the MOU between employers and DHS, such as failures to complete 
training or perform verifications within specific time frames; 

* misuse of E-Verify to discriminate and/or adversely affect employees 
such as verifying existing employees, prescreening, firing employees 
who received tentative nonconfirmations, or not firing unauthorized 
employees; and: 

* detecting instances where privacy information is compromised, such as 
by sharing of passwords or nonemployer access of the system. 

Using some of these behaviors, among other things, to monitor 
employers' use of E-Verify, USCIS plans to interact with employers who 
might not be complying with program procedures in four main ways: (1) 
sending letters or e-mails to advise employers of misuse of the system 
and to provide appropriate remedies, (2) follow-up phone calls when 
employers fail to respond to the initial letters or e-mails, (3) audits 
through which USCIS requests documents and information be sent to the 
agency from potentially noncompliant employers, and (4) site visits for 
in-person interviews and document inspection when desk audits reveal 
cause for further investigation. Under the current voluntary program, 
USCIS plans to contact about 6 percent of participating employers 
regarding employer noncompliance. USCIS estimates that under a 
mandatory E-Verify program, the percentage of employers the agency 
would contact regarding employer noncompliance would decrease to about 
1 to 3 percent. If, as a result of its monitoring activities, USCIS 
found that it needed to contact more than 3 percent of employers, USCIS 
officials stated that the agency plans to modify its approach for 
addressing employers' noncompliance. As of April 2008, USCIS plans to 
allocate its monitoring and compliance efforts as follows: 45 percent 
of its activities would involve sending letters and e-mails to 
employers; 45 percent would involve follow-up phone calls; 9 percent 
would involve desk audits; and 1 percent would involve site visits. As 
part of a mandatory program, USCIS would modify this distribution of 
monitoring activities by, for example, using letters, e-mails, and 
phone calls for a larger percentage of interactions with employers. 
However, USCIS is still in the early stages of implementing its 
monitoring and compliance activities. Therefore, it is too early to 
tell whether these activities will ensure that all employers fully 
follow program requirements and properly use E-Verify under a mandatory 
program, especially since such controls cannot be expected to provide 
absolute assurance. 

The Monitoring and Compliance branch could help ICE better target its 
worksite enforcement efforts by providing information that indicates 
cases of employers' egregious misuse of the system. Although ICE has no 
direct role in monitoring employer use of E-Verify and does not have 
access to program information that is maintained by USCIS unless it 
requests such information from USCIS, ICE officials told us that 
program data could indicate cases in which employers or employees may 
be fraudulently using the system and therefore should help the agency 
better target its worksite enforcement resources toward those 
employers. ICE officials noted that, in a few cases, they have 
requested and received E-Verify data from USCIS on specific employers 
who participate in the program and are under ICE investigation. For 
example, USCIS told us that by monitoring use of the E-Verify program 
to date, staff were able to identify instances of fraudulent use of 
social security numbers and referred such egregious examples of fraud 
to ICE. However, USCIS and ICE officials told us that case referrals or 
requests for information between the two agencies have been infrequent, 
and information on the resolution of these referrals is not formally 
maintained by ICE. USCIS expects to complete and implement a compliance 
tracking system to track referrals to and responses to requests from 
ICE on compliance cases in fiscal year 2009. USCIS and ICE are also 
negotiating an MOU to define roles, responsibilities, and mechanisms 
for sharing and using E-Verify information. Outstanding issues that 
need to be resolved for the MOU include the type of information that 
USCIS will provide to ICE through the referral process and the purposes 
for which ICE will use this information. While the MOU between USCIS 
and ICE is incomplete, ICE officials anticipate that, if the E-Verify 
program is made mandatory, they would receive an increased number of 
referrals for investigation from USCIS. Therefore, ICE officials told 
us that they plan to require additional resources to follow-up on USCIS 
referrals. ICE also hopes to be able to use elements of the E-Verify 
program to detect and track large-scale instances of employer or 
employee fraud. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For further information about this testimony, please contact Richard 
Stana at 202-512-8777. 

Other key contributors to this statement were Jonah Blumstein, Burns 
Chamberlain, Frances Cook, Josh A. Diosomito, Rebecca Gambler, Danielle 
Pakdaman, Evi Rezmovic, Julie E. Silvers, Rebekah Temple, and Adam 
Vogt. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] 8 U.S.C. §1324a(a). 

[2] IRCA provided for sanctions against employers who do not follow the 
employment verification (Form I-9) process. Employers who fail to 
properly complete, retain, or present for inspection a Form I-9 may 
face civil or administrative fines ranging from $110 to $1,100 for each 
employee for whom the form was not properly completed, retained, or 
presented. Employers who knowingly hire or continue to employ 
unauthorized aliens may be fined from $275 to $11,000 for each 
employee, depending on whether the violation is a first or subsequent 
offense. Employers who engage in a pattern or practice of knowingly 
hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized aliens are subject to 
criminal penalties consisting of fines up to $3,000 per unauthorized 
employee and up to 6 months imprisonment for the entire pattern or 
practice. 

[3] GAO, Immigration Enforcement: Weaknesses Hinder Employment 
Verification and Worksite Enforcement Efforts, GAO-05-813 (Washington, 
D.C.: Aug. 31, 2005) and GAO, Employment Verification: Challenges Exist 
in Implementing a Mandatory Electronic Verification System, GAO-07-924T 
(Washington, D.C.: June 7, 2007). 

[4] Westat, Findings of the Web Basic Pilot Evaluation (Washington, 
D.C.: September 2007). 

[5] In 2005, the most recent year for which data are available, there 
were approximately 7.4 million employer establishments in the United 
States. 

[6] In general, in cases when the E-Verify system cannot confirm an 
employee's work authorization status through the initial automatic 
check, the system issues the employer either an SSA or a DHS tentative 
nonconfirmation of the employee's work authorization status, which 
requires the employee to resolve any data inaccuracies if he or she is 
able or chooses to do so. 

[7] Employers are required to retain the Form I-9 for 3 years after the 
date the person begins work or 1 year after the person's employment is 
terminated, whichever is later. 

[8] Eight of these documents establish both identity and employment 
eligibility (e.g., U.S. passport or permanent resident card); 12 
documents establish identity only (e.g., driver's license); and 7 
documents establish employment eligibility only (e.g., Social Security 
card). 

[9] Pub. L. No. 104-208, div. C, §§ 401-404, 110 Stat. 3009-546, 3009- 
655-65. 

[10] The other two pilot programs mandated by IIRIRA--the Citizen 
Attestation Verification Pilot Program and the Machine-Readable 
Document Pilot Program--were discontinued in 2003 due to technical 
difficulties and unintended consequences identified in evaluations of 
the programs. See Institute for Survey Research and Westat, Findings of 
the Citizen Attestation Verification Pilot Program Evaluation 
(Washington, D.C.: April 2003) and Institute for Survey Research and 
Westat, Findings of the Machine-Readable Document Pilot Program 
Evaluation (Washington, D.C.: May 2003). 

[11] Through a process known as enumeration, SSA assigns a unique 
social security number to each individual who meets the requirements 
for one. Social security numbers are issued to most U.S. citizens at 
birth. They are also available to noncitizens lawfully admitted to the 
United States with permission to work. Numident contains demographic 
information on every social security number holder. 

[12] According to the E-Verify User Manual, a participating employer 
can notify DHS that it is not terminating an employee whose employment 
was not authorized by E-Verify or who did not contest a tentative 
nonconfirmation. 

[13] Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, 
Monitoring the Use of Employee Verification Program, A-03-06-36122 
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 26, 2006). 

[14] Active users are those employers who have run at least one query 
in fiscal year 2008. 

[15] USCIS used employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to 
develop these query projections. According to these statistics, 
employers hire an average of 9 new employees per year. The total number 
of employers is 7.4 million, based on these statistics, which amounts 
to approximately 63 million employment verifications per year. 

[16] USCIS officials told us that under the current voluntary E-Verify 
program, which uses one server, the program has been tested to handle 
about 40 million queries per year. In addition, under the current 
voluntary program, the program has been tested to handle about 45,000 
employer registrations per day and, with two additional servers, could 
handle up to 145,000 employer registrations per day. 

[17] The 4-year phased-in implementation proposal used by USCIS in 
making this estimate assumes that the federal employers with over 250 
employees would be required to use E-Verify the first year. Mandatory 
use of E-Verify would be required for all employers with more than 100 
employers in the second year, employers with more than 30 employees in 
the third year, and all remaining employers in the fourth year. 

[18] In developing these estimates, SSA assumed that that the federal 
government, federal contractors, and employers with over 250 employees 
would be required to use E-Verify the first year. Mandatory use of E- 
Verify would be required for all employers with more than 100 employers 
in the second year, employers with more than 30 employees in the third 
year, and all remaining employers in the fourth year. SSA assumed that 
employers must ensure that their current employees have been verified 
through E-Verify within 4 years. SSA also assumed that the first group 
of employers will have to begin verifying newly hired employees by the 
end of fiscal year 2009. Moreover, in developing the estimate SSA 
assumed that there will be a gradual increase in verification requests 
from fiscal years 2009 through 2012, peaking at 110 million in fiscal 
year 2012, before settling off at a consistent volume of 60 million 
verification requests each year, with some employers participating 
voluntarily in E-Verify to verify new and current employees before they 
are required to do so. 

[19] According to SSA, the vast majority of individuals visit an SSA 
field office, and a small percentage contact SSA's 1-800 number. SSA 
officials told us that in fiscal year 2007, for every 100 E-Verify 
queries, 1.7 individuals contacted SSA, on average, about 1.5 times, or 
a total a total of 2.6 contacts per 100 queries. Based on planned 
changes to the E-Verify process, SSA currently estimates that for every 
100 queries submitted to E-Verify in fiscal year 2008, 1.4 individuals 
will contact SSA, on average about 1.5 times each, for a total of 2.1 
contacts per 100 queries. This 1.4 estimate accounts for planned 
modifications to the E-Verify program through which (1) individuals 
whose naturalized citizenship status cannot be confirmed by SSA will 
also be queried against DHS's databases; and (2) individuals who 
receive a tentative nonconfirmation because their citizenship status 
does not match SSA's records can contact USCIS via a 1-800 number to 
resolve the tentative nonconfirmation rather than having to visit an 
SSA field office to do so. 

[20] These data on the results of initial E-Verify queries may not 
serve as a basis for projecting the number of queries that will be 
automatically confirmed or receive a tentative nonconfirmation under a 
mandatory E-Verify program. According to USCIS, there are preliminary 
indications that because of system improvements, the percentage of 
initial queries that are automatically confirmed as work authorized is 
increasing, and the percentage of initial queries that result in 
tentative nonconfirmations is decreasing. 

[21] As of May 2008, USCIS will use the following databases to confirm 
employee work authorization: DHS Central Index System; Computer Linked 
Automated Information Management System 3; Interagency Border 
Inspection System I-94 data; Image Storage and Retrieval System; SSA 
Numerical Identification File; Interagency Border Inspection System 
Real Time Arrival; and the Computer Linked Automated Information 
Management System 4 and the Reengineered Naturalization Automated 
Casework System. 

[22] In general, SSA records are stored according to social security 
numbers, while DHS records are stored according to alien numbers, known 
as A-numbers. 

[23] E-Verify is using IBIS data to verify the work authorization of 
non-citizens whose data are not found in the DHS Central Index System. 
The Central Index System contains information on the status of 
applicants/petitioners seeking immigration benefits to include, among 
others, lawful permanent residents, naturalized citizens, U.S. border 
crossers, and aliens who illegally entered the United States. 

[24] Prior to the establishment of EV-STAR, employers were not 
automatically notified through the E-Verify system after an SSA-issued 
tentative nonconfirmation was resolved. Rather, after resolving the 
tentative nonconfirmation, the employee had to present the tentative 
nonconfirmation notification, containing SSA's notice of resolution of 
the tentative nonconfirmation, to the employer and the employer then 
had to access E-Verify to resolve the tentative nonconfirmation in the 
system. 

[25] GAO-05-813. 

[26] As of April 2008, E-Verify employers who use a designated agent 
(another company or individual who runs queries on behalf of the 
company) or Web services (an access method that allows employers to use 
their own software to access E-Verify) cannot access the Photo 
Screening Tool. 

[27] Employers are supposed to notify USCIS of their determination of 
whether the photographs matched, or if they could not make a 
determination, through the E-Verify system. If an employer determines 
that the photographs do not match, a tentative nonconfirmation is 
issued. 

[28] This number excludes queries submitted by a designated agent or 
through Web services. 

[29] The mission of USCIS's Monitoring and Compliance branch is to: (1) 
prevent fraud, discrimination, or illegal use of E-Verify; (2) educate 
employers and provide assistance with compliance procedures; (3) follow 
up with employers on misuse of the system; and (4) monitor E-Verify 
system usage and refer identified instances of fraud, discrimination, 
or illegal use of the system to enforcement authorities such as ICE or 
the Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel. 

[30] According to USCIS officials, as participation in the E-Verify 
program grows, the agency will need 3 additional field monitoring 
officers and 25 additional field compliance officers for every 100,000 
employers.

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