Mandatory Employment Verification on the Horizon

Direct marketing organizations, like all businesses, have been collecting I-9 information since the original Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which made it illegal for employers to knowingly hire unauthorized workers. Although your attention may be focused on your hourly workers—typically high turnover individuals working in contact centers—all employees must meet the same scrutiny. Part of the IRCA created the I-9 document and the verification process employers must follow today in order to avoid sanctions. This verification process consists mainly of a physical review of identification documents (e.g., a social security card and a driver license) to establish both the person’s identity and the individual’s authorization to work in the U.S.

In the 20 years since passing of the IRCA, the process has changed very little; however this basic and manual process has inherent issues that can result in applicant fraud and error. Recently, the topic of immigration, and specifically, illegal aliens, has reached a fever pitch. With the coordinated immigration protests across the country on May 1 as one of its high points, the U.S. government has been looking at the employment eligibility issue for some time. It has recently taken two steps towards addressing the current challenges.

First, in December 2005, the House took action to minimize illegal immigration by starting to tighten border controls to stop illegal aliens from obtaining employment in the U.S. The bill includes statutes that require, within two years of the legislation passing, all employers to perform an employment eligibility check directly with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for all new employees, or face civil or criminal penalties for hiring illegal workers.

Then in April 2006, the Senate responded to the House bill by sending a bill (S.2612) to the floor called the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006.” If passed, the DHS and the Social Security Administration (SSA) will be required to implement a countrywide I-9 Employment Verification database and process. The bill also establishes steep civil and criminal penalties for noncompliant employers.

What does this mean for you? You would still be required to obtain a signed I-9 form, backed by supporting documentation, from each new employee. What’s new is that you would be required to also submit the new hire’s information to the DHS verification system within three days of hire. Also, the law provides for reassessment of all employees through the system, regardless of hire date, to ensure eligibility to work in the U.S.

How does the DHS I-9 Employment Verification work? The new hire’s information is sent to the DHS database and the system verifies eligibility to work in the U.S., verifies that the name and Social Security Number match, and it verifies the Social Security Number for wage reporting purposes. The system discourages the use of false documentation and levies penalties for the violation of hiring and/or employment eligibility laws.

What if the result is negative?
If the DHS search returns as a non-verification, the new-hire must be notified that their eligibility status was deemed non-verified and be given the opportunity to contest. If the applicant does not contest in the time allowed, the non-verification will be final. If they do contest, the verification will remain tentative until that time the eligibility is deemed either verified or non-verified under further review. Who must conform? Until the new law is passed in Congress, I-9 Employment Verification is currently available in all 50 states on a volunteer basis. If a company decides to participate in the volunteer program, it must screen all new-hires in a search conducted post-hire, within three days of the employee’s start date.

While the program is still voluntary until the act is passed, you can count on the fact that the government is serious about illegal immigrants and establishing a program to ensure that work eligibility verification will happen soon. There’s every reason to believe that some version of the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006” will exist and companies should start planning to implement an I-9 verification program in the near future.

Les Gore is managing partner of Newton, MA-based search firm Executive Search International

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