E-Verify has come a long way since its inception, however the latest GAO audit reveals that it still faces challenges and has scope for improvement. Since GAO last testified in June 2008, USCIS has taken several steps to improve the accuracy of the E-Verify system and has been successful in greatly reducing the number of TNCs since it started operations in 2004. We have tried to give a brief summary of the report and a few of its findings.

USCIS and SSA reduced TNCs, but the accuracy of e-verify continues to be limited by inconsistent recording of both employees’ names and fraud: USCIS has reduced the number of TNCs and enhanced system efficiencies to better allow employees to resolve TNCs. However inaccuracies and inconsistencies in recording employees’ names continue to produce erroneous TNCs.  Another major drawback that has still not been addressed is that E-Verify remain vulnerable to fraud, even though USCIS has taken certain steps to reduce it. Also, the government’s ability to ensure an authorized workforce is limited because E-Verify, like the Form I-9 process on which it is based, is vulnerable to identity fraud. Identity fraud can allow E-Verify to erroneously verify individuals who fraudulently use the valid documents of others to gain employment.

Documents with enhanced security features, such as biometrics, may help to resolve some of these weaknesses, but they may be costly and generate privacy concerns. USCIS’s actions to improve the accuracy of E-Verify have included adding tools to help identify fraudulent documents, expanding the number of databases queried through E-Verify, and instituting quality control procedures to screen for data entry errors. However, USCIS can further improve the accuracy of E-Verify by taking additional actions to help prevent erroneous TNCs attributable to name mismatches.

USCIS has taken several actions to address employer noncompliance but remains limited in its ability to identify and prevent employer misuse: USCIS has more than doubled the number of monitoring and compliance staff overseeing employers’ use of E-Verify. However, the staffs alone have limited capability to identify and prevent employer misuse. According to senior E-Verify program officials, the Monitoring and Compliance Branch will have the technical infrastructure to support intended program activities by fiscal year 2012, when improved technology enabling automated analysis of E-Verify transaction data is expected to be implemented. This can greatly enable officials to monitor and prevent employer misuse of the program. USCIS has taken some actions to identify and mitigate civil rights and civil liberties risks associated with e-verify and faces challenges in combating employer discrimination.

The study also found that USCIS and SSA have taken actions to prepare for mandatory implementation of e-verify by adopting practices for effectively managing e-verify system capacity, but they face challenges in estimating costs. Another issue raised in the report was that DHS has instituted employee privacy protections for E-verify, but resolving erroneous TNCs and FNCs and combating discrimination can be challenging. Disseminating information to employees on the importance of providing consistent name information to employers, SSA, and DHS can help better ensure data accuracy and reduce the appearance of discrimination toward certain cultural groups because of the disparate impact of these kinds of erroneous TNCs on such groups.

Regarding privacy protections, USCIS has taken actions to minimize risks to the privacy of personal information for new employees. However, employees are limited in their ability to identify, access, and correct information in DHS databases that has led to erroneous TNCs.

Conclusion

GAO recommends, among other things, that

  • USCIS disseminate information to employees on the importance of consistently recording their names,
  • DHS components develop procedures to help employees correct inaccurate personal information,
  • USCIS develop reliable cost estimates for E-Verify, and
  • SSA assesses risks associated with its E-Verify workload costs.

To conclude USCIS has taken progressive changes in the system to correct faults that were pointed out earlier, however the system is still not fool-proof and requires further enhancements and corrections in order to address the issues mentioned in the report. The findings and conclusions were discussed with SSA as well as DHS authorities and an understanding has developed in order to further improve the system. Hence we can expect a much better process for our employment eligibility verification in the future!