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'Self Check' for Immigrant Workers

USCIS Expands E-Verify To Allow Employees To Check Their Own Status

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has expanded E-Verify Self Check, a free online service that allows immigrants, or nonimmigrants, to check their own employment eligibility status.

USCIS began the Self Check program in 2011 and by 2012 had expanded it to all 50 states ahead of schedule. About 70,000 people used the service during the first year, and immigration officials expect that number to grow rapidly.

E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses and workers to determine their eligibility status. It draws on records contained in several government databases.

The idea is to help employers make sure they don’t hire illegal workers, and to allow workers to prove their legal status to get jobs.

A growing number of state and local governments are requiring businesses to use E-Verify, especially to do work on public projects. Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi passed tough state immigration laws requiring E-Verify use.

As of September 2009, employers with federal contracts are required to use the system to validate their workers’ status.

To use Self Check, a worker must enter basic identifying information: name, address, date of birth. The government sends that information to a third party “identity assurance” service that comes back with a series of “quiz” questions for the worker. The questions are based on personal information that only the worker would know.

The government says the process is similar to the questions banks and credit card companies ask customers to verify their identities.

Once the identity checks out, the worker will have to submit a Social Security number, as well as citizenship and immigration authorization, for example, information about green cards or visas. Self Check is available in English and Spanish.

USCIS says the response is almost immediate at this point, as the government checks the information against its databases. If there is a mismatch between the information submitted and the government’s databases, the worker will receive instructions on how to correct the problems.

USCIS says it does not share mismatch information with law enforcement agencies, contrary to the assertion of some immigrant advocates who say the system is designed to help deport undocumented immigrants.

State laws mandating the use of E-Verify do not apply to Self Check, which is voluntary. USCIS says one of the benefits of Self Check is the “peace of mind” of knowing in advance about legal status or potential problems. The government says it does not share the results of Self Check with employers; only the worker receives the results.

“We are pleased to complete, ahead of schedule, our expansion of this important tool for employees,” said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. “We anticipate that participation will dramatically increase with service now available to individuals throughout the country.”

USCIS says Self Check is useful for non-immigrants, as well as immigrants, because it “provides transparency” into government employment eligibility records.

Critics of the E-Verify process have complained about unreliable results and a high error rate. But the government says the system has improved greatly since it was originally introduced, way back in 1997. USCIS officials say the error rate is only a fraction of what it was and that the system is continually improving.

One of the lingering problems is weeding out the large amount of bad information in the government computers that has accumulated over the years: false identities, duplicate names, misspellings, language issues.

Several prominent industrial groups have opposed E-Verify, among them the American Farm Bureau Foundation. The groups say the unreliability of the system will drive workers a way and hurt the U.S. economy.

According to Homeland Security, more than 238,000 employers use E-Verify and more than 1,400 companies are enrolled in the program each week. The Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration worked together to create Self Check.

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