Agencies Have Improved E-Verify, but Significant Challenges Remain
GAO-11-522T, Apr 14, 2011
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This testimony discusses the E-Verify program, which provides employers a tool for verifying an employee's authorization to work in the United States. The opportunity for employment is one of the most powerful magnets attracting immigrants to the United States. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, as of March 2010, approximately 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the country, and an estimated 8 million of them, or about 70 percent, were in the labor force. Congress, the administration, and some states have taken various actions to better ensure that those who work here have appropriate work authorization and to safeguard jobs for authorized employees. Nonetheless, opportunities remain for unauthorized workers to fraudulently obtain employment by using borrowed or stolen documents and for unscrupulous employers to hire unauthorized workers. Immigration experts have noted that deterring illegal immigration requires, among other things, a more reliable employment eligibility verification process and a more robust worksite enforcement capacity. E-Verify is a free, largely voluntary, Internet-based system operated by the Verification Division of the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). The goals of E-Verify are to (1) reduce the employment of individuals unauthorized to work, (2) reduce discrimination, (3) protect employee civil liberties and privacy, and (4) prevent undue burden on employers. Pursuant to a 2007 Office of Management Budget directive, all federal agencies are required to use E-Verify on their new hires and, as of September 2009, certain federal contractors and subcontractors are required to use E-Verify for newly hired employees working in the United States as well as existing employees working directly under the contract. A number of states have also mandated that some or all employers within the state use E-Verify on new hires. From October 1, 2010, through April 5, 2011, E-Verify processed approximately 7.8 million queries from nearly 258,000 employers. In an August 2005 report and June 2008 testimony on E-Verify, we noted that USCIS faced challenges in detecting identity fraud and ensuring employer compliance with the program's rules. We highlighted some of the challenges USCIS and SSA faced in reducing instances of erroneous tentative nonconfirmations (TNC), or situations in which work-authorized employees are not automatically confirmed by E-Verify. We also noted that mandatory implementation of E-Verify would place increased demands on USCIS's and SSA's resources. This testimony is based primarily on a report we issued in December 2010 and provide updates to the challenges we noted in our 2005 report and 2008 testimony. The statement, as requested, highlights findings from that report and discusses the extent to which (1) USCIS has reduced the incidence of TNCs and E-Verify's vulnerability to fraud, (2) USCIS has provided safeguards for employees' personal information, and (3) USCIS and SSA have taken steps to prepare for mandatory E-Verify implementation. Our December 2010 report also includes a discussion of the extent to which USCIS has improved its ability to monitor and ensure employer compliance with E-Verify program policies and procedures.