Understanding the E-Verify program — what employers need to know

Collecting I-9 forms from new hires is a mandatory process all business owners go through in the United States. Yet, if you run a business in certain states, such as Arizona or Mississippi, you’ll also be required to E-verify your new employees.

What’s that? The E-verify program (short for Employment Eligibility Verification) is an internet-based system used to verify the eligibility of new employees to work inside the United States. It’s owned and operated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

E-verify works by taking the data from the completed I-9 form and cross-referencing it against the records on file in both the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). The E-verify system is the most reliable way to confirm that all your newly hired employees have legal authorization to work in the U.S.

If you want to learn more about how E-verify works (and if you’re required to use it or not) — you’re in the right place.

What is E-Verify, and why is it necessary?

If you’re a new business owner, you may not understand the e-verify program, especially if your state requires it. Its roots go back to 1996, when Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) to crack down on businesses hiring unauthorized employees. Back then, it went by the name Basic Pilot Program. When the program went online in 2007, it was renamed E-Verify.

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Its primary purpose is to ensure employees contain work authorization and aren’t attempting to work inside the United States illegally.

While it’s still largely a voluntary program, it is required in the following states:

  • Alabama

  • Arizona

  • Louisiana

  • Mississippi

  • Georgia

  • North Carolina

  • South Carolina

  • Tennessee

  • Utah

  • Missouri

In addition to doing business in these states, the use of e-verify is also required for federal contracts and subcontracts containing the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) E-verify Clause. That’s because the federal government only works with federal contractors and subcontractors with a fully legal workforce. Some states, such as Texas, require all state agencies to use e-verify on contractors and subcontractors working on public contracts.

Why should you E-Verify new employees?

Why should you enroll in the program if you’re not a federal contractor or in a state with e-verify requirements? There are a few reasons why, with the most important being that the e-verify program protects you as an employer.

It’s illegal to knowingly hire undocumented immigrants or those without proper work authorization. Punishments include six months of prison time and a $3,000 fine (that gets steeper for each violation) for each illegal employee. That’s not something you want any part of, and e-verify helps you protect your business. You’ve done your due diligence by enrolling in the program and making all new hires undergo the employment verification process.

If you work in states such as Texas or Arizona that see a lot of illegal immigration, it’s a good rule of thumb to e-verify your employees to protect yourself. Another reason you’ll need to enroll in the program is if you plan to hire non-US citizens such as international students here on academic visas. In these instances, the e-verify program is required to hire and sponsor international students.

How does E-Verify work?

To use the e-verify program, you’ll need to enroll online through the official website (www.e-verify.gov). As stated before, e-verify uses the data you collect from I-9 forms to see if new hires have employment authorization in the United States. After you input the data, it cross-references through two databases — the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the SSA. A mismatch between the I-9 data and SSA/DHS data gets listed as a tentative non-confirmation (TNC).

While a TNC isn’t a guarantee that the employee isn’t authorized to work in the United States, it’s a red flag that will get investigated further.

What type of information gets sent into the program?

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Here’s a list of the required data:

  • Employee first name, middle initial, and last name

  • If applicable, maiden name

  • A current U.S. street address (NOT a postal address or address outside the U.S.)

  • Employee date of birth

  • Social security number

  • Attestation to immigrant or citizen status in the U.S.

  • An electronic signature verifying that all the information provided is accurate

  • Full employer name and address

That’s all the information you’ll need to provide for each employee based on their 1-9 form. Once complete, the e-verify program will take care of the rest.

Enrolling in the E-Verify program

If you discover that you must use e-verify (or wish to use it voluntarily), you’ll need to register on www.e-verify.gov. You’ll need to agree to all the program rules, as well as provide the following information about your business:

  • Your Federal Tax ID Number

  • The hiring locations where you plan on using e-verify

  • If you’re a federal contractor or not

  • The total number of employees at each location

  • Designate at least one program administrator

Once you’ve filled the enrollment information out, you can move on to the verification process.

Gather Your I-9 Forms

To start, you’ll want to have all your completed I-9 forms on-hand. If your new hires haven’t filled out these forms yet, they’ll need to before you can proceed. Also, all new employees must complete an I-9 form no later than three business days after they start working for pay — per the requirements of the U.S. government.

Whenever an employee fills out an I-9, they must provide you with supplementary documents that prove their identity and work authorization.

The I-9 form will break these documents down into three categories:

  • List A. These are documents that establish identity and employment authorization (such as a U.S. passport).

  • List B. These documents establish identity only (such as a driver’s license).

  • List C. These documents establish employment authorization only (such as a birth certificate).

To complete the I-9, employees can either deliver one document from List A or a combination of papers from List B and List C.

Before opening a case in e-verify, you’ll want to ensure that all your employee I-9s are completed and nearby.

Open a case in E-Verify

Now you’re ready to open a case in e-verify to start the process. Just as with the I-9, you must complete the verification process no more than three days after the employee begins working for pay.

Enter the information you received on the employee’s I-9 and supplementary documents to open the case.

Verify photos

If the employee presented photos as part of their documents, such as a driver’s license, you must compare the photo with the one provided by the SSA/DHS database.

Passports, resident cards, and employment authorization documents will prompt you to compare photos, but others won’t. In these cases, it’s imperative to compare the images yourself to ensure one isn’t falsified.

Check the Results

Once the process is done, one of three things can happen. If everything goes off without a hitch, you’ll see an ’employment authorized’ page after submitting the case. That’s the best-case scenario, but two other things can happen.

If something triggers a manual review, you’ll receive a ‘Verification in Process’ message. In this case, government staff will manually review your case and get back to you within 24 to 48 hours.

If there is a mismatch, you’ll receive a TNC notification. That means something was off with the information, and your employee will have eight days to resolve it.

If the employee takes additional action and the program still can’t verify employment authorization, a ‘final non-confirmation’ gets issued. That means that the employee isn’t eligible to work inside the U.S.

Closing thoughts: E-Verify program

By now, you should better understand what e-verify is, why it exists, and how it can help your business. If you live in a state that doesn’t require e-verify, you don’t have to enroll in it. Yet, it’s by far the most reliable way to ensure that you have a fully legal workforce.

In general, e-verify is a simple program to use, and it’s free and available in all 50 states. If you want to protect your business from illegal employment, enrolling in the e-verify program is an excellent way to do so.