E-Verify fails to catch half of unauthorized workers, study reveals

System fails to detect ID theft at least half the time

People who cannot work legally in the United States are able to defraud or slip through the federal E-Verify system about half the time, according to a new report released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

“Due primarily to identity fraud, the inaccuracy rate for unauthorized workers is approximately 54 percent,” states the report from the Westat research firm, which examined E-Verify’s caseload from September 2007 to June 2008. “This finding is not surprising, given that since the inception of E-Verify it has been clear that many unauthorized workers obtain employment by committing identity fraud that cannot be detected by E-Verify.”

The 338-page E-Verify Program Evaluation report was produced in December 2009 and was published on the USCIS Web site Feb. 24.

E-Verify is a voluntary program for most employers, but is required for federal contractors and for contractors in some states. It is used by about 180,000 employers.

Run by the Homeland Security Department, E-Verify allows employers submit Social Security numbers of prospective employees to verify the employees’ eligibility to work. If there is a match, the employee is deemed eligible to work. If there is no match, there are procedures for further adjudication.

Overall, about 3.3 percent of E-Verify’s caseload consisted of illegal workers that were incorrectly deemed to be authorized to work by E-Verify, the report said. Another 2.9 percent of the caseload consisted of illegal workers correctly judged to be unauthorized. Therefore, the estimated inaccuracy rate for unauthorized workers was 54 percent.

The inaccuracy rate for the entire E-Verify caseload was judged to be 4.1 percent, according to Westat. That means that in 96 percent of the cases, the E-Verify finding was consistent with the worker’s true authorization status. The inaccuracy rate for authorized workers was 1 percent, according to the report.

The report further revealed that E-Verify employer compliance has increased, employers say it is not burdensome, efficiency and timeliness have improved and the number of employers voluntarily participating in E-Verify has increased.

USCIS has implemented several improvements in E-Verify since the time of the report, including addition of a photo screening tool in which photos can be checked for a match against photos in government databases.

USCIS officials said in the report they are implementing the report’s recommendations and instituting other improvements to increase accuracy. The efforts include use of fraud-detection software, expanded employer outreach and exploring further use of biometrics.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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