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Workplace Raids Worry Law-abiding Employers

December 2007
Workplace Raids Worry Law-abiding Employers

Vimal Sharma* has worked 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the past 22 years to build up his business. He started as a cashier in a gas station, eventually saving enough money to partner with a friend to invest in his own convenience store. Now, he owns 4 convenience store complexes throughout Atlanta, but continues to oversee every aspect of the business on his own.

“I work hard to protect what I’ve built up, and I always aim to follow the laws” he says. “But hearing about workplace raids, employees presenting false work documents, and increased sanctions against employers on a daily basis is frightening, as a business owner.” Mr. Sharma has approximately 35 full and part-time employees, although turnover is high, as is usually the case in the industry. He tries to keep up with the employment documents of each employee, in addition to his many other daily management duties.

As immigration laws have gotten tougher, black market technologies to produce fake documents have gotten more sophisticated. It is difficult for the everyday business owner to distinguish between false and authentic documents, but generally a good faith effort to ensure that documents are proper is sufficient to prevent employer sanctions.

To assist business owners like Mr. Sharma in these good faith efforts, USCIS has launched a new photo-screening tool for use by employers seeking to comply with immigration law. The photo tool will be the first step in giving employers the tools they need to help detect some forms of identity fraud in the employment eligibility process.

The photo tool is the first enhancement in E-Verify, the agency’s Web-based system that allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees. E-Verify, formerly known as the Basic Pilot employment eligibility verification program, is a free Web-based system that works by electronically comparing new employee information taken from the Form I-9 against more than 425 million records in the Social Security Administration’s database and more than 60 million records in the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration database.

More than 23,000 employers are currently enrolled in the program – with more than 2,000 more joining each month – and will now be able to access the new photo screening tool to more accurately verify a new non-citizen employee’s identity.

In the words of USCIS Director Emilio Gonzalez, “Our current E-Verify system is not fraud-proof and was not designed to detect identity fraud,” he also added, “The photo tool enhancement will give employers an additional resource to help verify identity and employment authorization status and is just one more valuable enhancement to an effective, fair and viable program.”

First piloted in March, the photo tool will be available when a new employee presents an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or Permanent Resident Card (“green card”) to complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (I-9). It allows the employer to compare identical photos – the individual’s photograph on the EAD or green card against the image stored in USCIS’ databases, which contains nearly 15 million images of individual documents. The tool is designed to help an employer determine whether the document presented reasonably relates to the individual presenting it and contains a valid photo.

Employers currently participating in E-Verify will be trained on the system enhancement through a mandatory refresher tutorial that launches automatically on Sept. 17, 2007. New employers who register after that date will learn how to use the photo tool through an updated E-Verify manual, tutorial, and memorandum of understanding.

Mr. Sharma is relieved of the additional chance to show his commitment to following the laws. “I’ve worked very hard to get where I am,” he says. “I can’t afford to risk it all by hiring someone trying to fool me with false work papers.”

* Name changed to protect identity.

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