Federal Agencies Have Improved E-Verify, but Significant Challenges Remain
GAO-11-330T, Feb 10, 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, in early 2009 approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the country, and an estimated 7.8 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 unscrupulous employers to hire unauthorized workers and for unauthorized workers to fraudulently obtain employment by using borrowed or stolen documents. 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 2009 through August 2010, E-Verify processed approximately 14.9 million queries from nearly 222,000 employers. 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.