By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

A research company has found that E-Verify – the employment eligibility verification system that the U. S. government would like employers to use to help control illegal immigration – has failed to catch over half of the number of illegal workers it checks.

According to Westat, a research company evaluating the system for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), E-Verify wrongly cleared illegal workers 54 percent of the time after failing to detect identity theft and fraud. While the Westat report indicated E-Verify correctly identified legal workers 93 percent of the time, previous studies did not reveal how many illegal workers fooled the E-Verify system with identity theft and fraud.

Westat’s report – completed in December 2009 using data from the previous year – also stated in a summary that E-Verify, while not perfect in detecting identity theft and fraud, was “much more effective” than the I-9 paper forms used by most employers. The results come at a time when President Obama’s administration has made cracking down on U.S. employers who hire illegal workers a central part of its immigration enforcement policy.

However, just using E-Verify gives an employer a powerful defense in the event that a worker is later found to have committed identify theft. E-Verify is a free, Internet-based system operated by DHS in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA), and allows participating employers to electronically verify their employees’ employment authorization. Employers run a prospective employee’s information against DHS and SSA databases to check whether that worker is legally permitted to work in the United States. Results are returned online within seconds.

Despite any drawbacks, the E-Verify employment eligibility verification system remains a powerful tool for employers to verify the employment authorization of employees. E-Verify virtually eliminates SSA mismatch letters, improves the accuracy of wage and tax reporting, protects jobs for authorized workers, and helps U.S. employers maintain a legal workforce. Approximately 184,000 U.S. employers currently use E-Verify.

E-Verify/I-9 form compliance is merely one aspect of a thorough and comprehensive hiring strategy that can help employers uncover identity theft and fraud committed by jobseekers by using background checks and employment verifications. Employment Screening Resources (ESR) is an authorized E-Verify Designated Agent. For more information about E-Verify, please visit