In the midst of increasing government crackdown on employers suspected of hiring illegal workers – from frequent workplace raids to steep fines and penalties – employers are finding themselves in the center of immigration reform and enforcement. Now more than ever, it’s critical that organizations have an I-9 and employment eligibility management program in place that ensures compliance and effectively verifies employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S.
Adding to the complexity for employers, is that as U.S. immigration reform continues to be a hotly contested topic, the federal, state and local regulations evolve continually and employers must consistently track and adapt their programs to comply with these changing requirements. Here are five reasons to evaluate your I-9 program and procedures now:
1. Increased Government Penalties Against Employers
As employment eligibility enforcement continues to rise, more and more employers are seeking ways to ensure that they are hiring legal workers. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has seemingly shifted its enforcement tactics from targeting unauthorized workers, to pursuing those businesses that hire these workers.
This summer saw an unprecedented crackdown by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on employers suspected of hiring unauthorized employees. Hundreds of companies are currently being audited for proper paperwork and documentation and penalties can range from fines of $250 to $5,500 per violation to exclusion from federal contracts and criminal prosecution of the employer.
These government penalties are not administered to organizations solely for hiring individuals who are not legally eligible to work, but also for incomplete, inaccurate or missing I-9 forms. Several high profile companies have recently settled fines that amount to tens of thousands of dollars, with some fines surpassing $100,000.
2. Rising Use of E-Verify
While E-Verify started out a decade ago as a pilot program in a handful of states, it has quickly become one of the nation’s fastest growing tools to verify employment eligibility, with an increase of more than 240 percent in the number of registered companies since 2007.
Likely a result of the ICE crackdowns, new regulations, and the growing concern from employers to confirm authorized right to work, the increased use of E-Verify signals a trend by employers who are stepping up their employment eligibility and I-9 management efforts.
As of June 2009, companies were signing up for E-Verify at a rate of nearly 1,200 per week , and total E-Verify queries will soon surpass six million checks through the system this fiscal year alone. E-Verify has become a key tool for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in enforcing the hiring of job applicants with a legal status. The agency has increasingly been encouraging the use of E-Verify, and in some instances requiring it.
3. New Stringent Federal and State Regulations
For those companies doing work for the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is supporting a regulation that will award federal contracts only to those employers who use E-Verify to confirm employee work authorization.
Beginning September 8, 2009, any company that is awarded a federal contract will be required to enroll in and use the E-Verify system. This will impact hundreds of thousands of businesses, and will likely result in a sharper increase in E-Verify enrollment, as businesses compete for highly coveted government contracts. As a result of this new regulation, the Social Security No-Match Rule will be rescinded, placing further importance on the E-Verify program.
States are also continuing to take the employment eligibility matter into their own hands. Currently 12 states mandate the use of E-Verify to some degree, while an additional five states have pending legislation involving E-Verify. States are also creating their own penalties for failure to meet employment eligibility requirements, including a ban from state contracts and loss of a business license.
4. Increased Funding for Employment Eligibility Programs
E-Verify is included in a $42.9 billion Department of Homeland Security bill proposed by the U.S. Senate for 2010, which would make the program permanent. The House has proposed its own bill with funds allocated to E-Verify allocated funds and a proposed extension of the E-Verify program for two more years. Regardless of which details the Senate and House agree on, support for E-Verify is growing stronger.
5. Technology is Available to Improve the Process
Implementing an electronic I-9 with integrated employment verification solution as part of your employment screening program will save you time and ensure compliance with ever-changing state and federal laws. With the emphasis on verifying employment eligibility rising, it is critical to protect your company from non-compliance issues.
An electronic I-9 management solution integrated with E-Verify will enable you to automate the process, reduce data entry errors, facilitate federal and state compliance, and reduce paperwork, storage, and manual activities through a seamless solution, saving you time, money, and minimizing risk of government penalties.
Free Guide: Effectively Managing I-9 in the Face of Changing Legislation
Learn the best practices you need to know to more effectively manage your Form I-9 program by downloading:
Effectively Managing I-9 in the Face of Changing Legislation