USCIS released, on January 28, 2010, a recent report conducted by an outside research firm, Westat, on the accuracy of E-Verify with respect to identifying illegal workers, among other classes of workers run through the E-Verify system. The E-Verify evaluation is part of an ongoing effort to evaluate E-Verify’s accuracy.
The Report’s Findings
The report focused on many aspects of E-Verify, but the main number which has drawn attention recently is the fact that according to the Westat report, 54% of the unauthorized workers run through E-Verify result in an authorization to work. Westat and USCIS attribute this high number to identify fraud – unauthorized workers who use and submit documents of a person who is authorized to work. However, this high percentage of inaccurate E-Verify authorization has stirred some political and emotional responses. See Wall Street Journal and Forbes articles.
Overall, Westat found that an estimated 96 percent of all E-Verify initial responses were consistent with the person’s work authorization status: 93.1 percent of all E-Verify cases involved authorized workers who were initially found to be authorized; 2.9 percent of all E-Verify cases involved unauthorized workers who received final non-confirmations.
4.1 percent of the initial responses were inconsistent with employment eligibility status: 0.7 percent of all E-Verify cases involved authorized workers who were not initially found to be authorized to work; 3.3 percent of all E-Verify cases involved unauthorized workers who were found to be employment authorized.
Although the numbers, overall, are positive, the main concern and recent political storm came after breaking down this number relating to the 3.3 percent of all E-Verify cases involving unauthorized workers who were found to be eligible to work. Put in another way, out of the 6.2 percent of all E-Verify cases in which the workers were not authorized to work, the system failed to discover the unauthorized worker and permitted work 54 percent of the time.
In the summary of the report, USCIS tries to defend this alarming number of inaccurate work authorizations by putting the numbers in context and by showing the high success rate across other categories. While this is true, one of E-Verify’s main goals was to eliminate unauthorized work. The Westat report casts shadow on this. USCIS has taken steps to eliminate or decrease this rate of inaccurate authorizations. It is USCIS’ claim that most of these false authorizations are due to identity theft – as a result, USCIS is implementing a photo tool as part of E-Verify so that employers can match the photo of the documents submitted, with one in government records, and with the actual employee. Additionally, USCIS is attempting to integrate additional government databases to be able to provide more accurate and reliable information into E-Verify and increase its accuracy rate.
Basis for the Report
The report was based on several sources of data covering September 2007 to June 2008: USCIS staff and contractor interviews, focus groups, web survey of 2,320 E-Verify employers, in-person interview with 109 E-Verify employers and 424 workers who have received tentative non-confirmations (TNC), review of 1,246 records of workers who received TNCs and review of E-Verify program data. Additionally, Westat developed models to develop estimates of the numbers of true employment authorizations; models were necessary because the true data is unavailable.
The Westat report is very useful in evaluating the E-Verify program’s current state. Obviously, the 54 percent inaccuracy rate discussed above is going to be the focal point of discussions related to E-Verify over the near term. It is worth noting, however, that the Westat report used data which is not at least 18 months old and E-Verify has steadily been improving the accuracy of its data and models. Additional tools, such as the photo tool, are also helpful in eliminating certain types of work authorization and identify fraud.
We applaud USCIS efforts to improve E-Verify and to engage independent third parties to conduct research and test the accuracy of the system. As an E-Verify Designated Agent, we have helped many of our clients handle with a number of E-Verify issues and have been happy with the willingness of USCIS to improve the system.