Government limits expansion of E-Verify program

Effective Jan. 15, 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will proceed with a planned crackdown on federal contractors' employment of illegal immigrants but will limit the mandatory use of the E-Verify system, according to The Washington Post.

E-Verify is a work eligibility system that allows companies to check federal Social Security and immigration databases, and the Bush administration has made it one of the main facets of its plan to fight illegal immigration. It proposed to make the use of E-Verify mandatory for about 200,000 government contractors, which would cover about 4 million U.S. workers. Although participation in E-Verify currently is generally voluntary, 13 state legislatures have passed similar legislation for state contractors.

However, the Federal Register is publishing a revised final rule that would limit the use of E-Verify to contracts worth $100,000 or more (as opposed to $3,000) and require employers to check the eligibility of only workers on those contracts (instead of all their workers). It would go into effect for solicitations or awards made after Jan. 15, 2009, and would exempt workers who already have received security clearances, contracts for commercial, off-the-shelf items, and contracts with duration of less than 120 days.

Some federal contractors believe the Bush administration is trying to rush the changes through before the Obama administration could cancel them.

The proposal "vastly understates the burden imposed on employers and leaves unanswered a number of fundamental questions," says Eric Bord, an attorney at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Philadelphia, who represents contractors facing immigration investigations.

In June, officials mandated participation by 169,000 federal contractors, doubling the number of companies in the program and requiring the companies to verify eligibility of existing employees in addition to new hires.

The program currently covers 1 percent of an estimated 6 million U.S. employers and about 11 percent of annual hiring. It is expected that the new changes, though they would slow expansion of the program, eventually will cover more than 20 percent of U.S. hiring. Officials also believe employers may eventually decide to use E-Verify for all employees—not just those working on federal contracts—because it will be easier than figuring out which employees need to be verified.

The Bush administration has said the changes "are designed to lighten the burden on small businesses who decide to accept federal contracts and to provide contractors with flexible means of complying with the basic requirement that all persons working on federal contracts be electronically verified."

Date : 11/17/2008