MPI Report: E-Verify: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Proposals for Reform

2/15/2011
Reports on Migration

​ In February 2011, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) released a report, E-Verify: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Proposals for Reform. The report examines the current E-Verify system, including its strengths and weaknesses, and evaluates proposals to expand and improve the system, many that ACIP also supports, such as improvements to the system that address identity theft and combining it with biometric screening pilot. The report contains some interesting insights for employers to be aware of, including:

  • E-Verify now screens more than one in five new hires – Several groups of employers are required by law to use the program for new hires, including federal agencies and federal contractors and subcontractors and certain employers in 14 states.

  • Identity fraud remains a concern for E-Verify – While the system can confirm whether or not a name, social security number, or foreign national identification number exist in a federal database, the system cannot confirm whether the name and number actually belong to the worker being hired.  Th​is results in what is termed a “false positive,” and the scope of this problem is difficult to pinpoint because identity-fraud cases resemble successful confirmations.

  • E-Verify does not always successfully confirm eligibility of U.S. citizens and other legal workers.  The rate of these erroneous nonconfirmations is also hard to pinpoint, as some workers fail to correct these mistakes or fail to update their records.  However, statistical models have estimated the accuracy rate for legal workers in E-Verify to be about 98-99 percent, which is a substantial improvement over the system’s earlier performance.

  • Despite these improvements, the number of erroneous nonconfirmations as a share of all tentative noncomfirmations remains alarmingly high: 22% according to Westat’s model-based estimate. 

  • Since 2007, USCIS has incorporated a photo-matching feature to help prevent identity fraud.  However, there are two important limitations.  The matching is limited to certain restricted identity documents, whereas the overwhelming majority of workers in the US use other documents to prove their identity, including a driver’s license.  Secondly, the photo-matching tool relies on the good-faith compliance of employers who are required to compare the photograph in the worker’s record to the document provided. 

  • USCIS has established a Monitoring and Compliance Branch as a direct response to earlier criticisms of E-Verify.  This branch has been effective, notifying 16,125 employers about some noncompliance in FY 2010, with about 80 percent of those employers adjusting their behavior after they were contacted. 

  • Making E-Verify mandatory for all taxpayers would increase the cost to US taxpayers substantially – current spending on E-Verify averages about $100 million year, and USCIS projects that the program will require another $508 million through fiscal year 2020, through the actual number may be considerably higher.  Additionally the number of erroneous nonconfirmations and other costs to US employers and workers would also increase under a mandatory system.

  • Proposals to Create a Biometric Verification System:  Better ID cards or a biometric version of E-Verify would combat identify fraud and would likely be more successful at reducing unauthorized employment than the current version of E-Verify. 

The report concludes with the recommendation that E-Verify is a workable but imperfect system.  The immediate policy priorities should be to continue existing efforts to reduce identity fraud and improve the system’s accuracy, while expanding and evaluating pilot programs with additional improvements. ​