E-Verify improves but still can't detect ID theft, GAO says

Initial approval rate rises to 97.4 percent, according to new report

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency can now process a higher percentage of applicants through the E-Verify system on the first try, but the system still has inaccuracies, primarily due to fraud and identity theft, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The report issued Jan. 18 presents a mixed picture of the E-Verify employment verification program that was expanded in recent years. Although the electronic program now issues fewer initial denials, the problems with false and fraudulent identities continue, the GAO said.

Run by USCIS along with the Social Security Administration, E-Verify allows employers to submit the Social Security numbers of prospective employees to verify eligibility to work in the United States. If there is a match, the employee is deemed eligible. If there is no match, there are further procedures for adjudication.

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The system is required for federal contractors and some state contractors and voluntary for everyone else. From October 2009 to August 2010, E-Verify processed about 15 million queries from 222,000 participating employers.

USCIS has increased the number of databases queried through E-Verify, resulting in a higher percentage of inquiries resulting in a match on the first try, the report states. In fiscal 2009, E-Verify immediately confirmed 97.4 percent of applicants vs. 92 percent confirmed initially in fiscal 2006, according to the report.

However, errors, fraud and identity theft persist in the system. A December 2009 study found that E-Verify was accurate only half the time in correctly identifying unauthorized workers. Most of those workers had stolen or borrowed Social Security numbers.

“E-Verify remains vulnerable to identity theft and employer fraud," the GAO wrote. "Resolving these issues will be important in combating fraud in the employment verification process."

For the approximately 2.3 percent of applicants who didn't contest their denials, USCIS wasn't able to determine how many would have been authorized eventually and how many would have been found unauthorized, the GAO said.

Another source of errors in the E-Verify system is employees’ inconsistent use of names in their employment records, including maiden and married names, hyphenated names and multiple surnames. The GAO recommended that employers counsel their workers to maintain consistency in how they identify themselves in employee records.

The problem of inconsistencies tends to affect foreign-born applicants disproportionately due to greater numbers of multiple surnames and name mismatches on their employment records, the report states. Of the 22,000 initial denials from name mismatches, about 24 percent were from noncitizens, the GAO said.

The GAO recommended that USCIS circulate information to employees and at naturalization ceremonies to help workers record their names consistently. The agency also made seven other technical recommendations.

USCIS and SSA generally agreed with all the recommendations.

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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Reader comments

Thu, Jan 20, 2011 CJ Turner Washington, DC

Saying that E-Verify cannot detect ID theft is a bit like saying FBI's IAFIS can't identify fingerprints of criminals who have never been caught, and is an unfair evaluation of the system. It's a database, not a magic wand. Identity theft detection is a process of reporting/detecting/recording that is independent of the E-Verify mission. Now for a little math...of the approximately 390,000 rejections (2.6% of 15m), 23% did not contest, which means 89,700 times the system probably achieved its purpose. That's a lot of police work, so USCIS' "inability" to get more data on those cases is understandable.

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