Homeland Security beefs up worker verification efforts

The Department of Homeland Security is moving to shore up the government’s federal worker verification system designed to keep illegal immigrants out of American jobs. 

The agency’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is issuing revamped forms used by employers enrolled in the mostly voluntary electronic verification program known as E-Verify. 

Proponents of the program have long sought to make E-Verify mandatory for all U.S. employers, and the proposal is back on the table with new movement toward a congressional overhaul of the nation’s immigration system. 

But critics argue that the system is flawed, pointing to cases in which legal workers were mismatched in the government’s database and wrongfully kept off the job.

“[I]f implemented incorrectly, E-Verify could cause job losses to U.S. citizens and work authorized individuals, massive economic hardship, and lead to widespread workplace rights violations,” Emily Tulli, a policy attorney for National Immigration Law Center, wrote in an opinion piece for The Hill last week.

Government statistics show that more than 98 percent of workers who are put through the system get the green light for employment within 24 hours. Still, seeking to allay concerns, USCIS revised the “I-9” forms that employers fill out and submit to the agency when they make new hires.

“The newly revised Form I-9 makes several improvements designed to minimize errors in form completion,” USCIS said in a notice to be published in Friday’s Federal Register.

The new forms will be two pages instead of one, and will require additional information, including the would-be worker’s foreign passport information (if applicable), phone number and email address. They also contain an improved instructions section, USCIS said.

The action follows a rulemaking process that attracted more than 6,200 public comments. The new forms, which can be accessed here, are to be used immediately. USCIS noted that employers need not re-submit formers for already verified workers, and warned that doing so could violate anti-discrimination regulations.