President Bush recently announced the federal government would make it easier for employers to verify employment eligibility and would continue to hold employers accountable for the workers they hire. To that end, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also announced the release of two federal regulations to help businesses comply with current legal hiring requirements intended to reduce the employment of unauthorized aliens.
The first proposal would permit U.S. businesses to digitize their I-9 employment forms, which are used to verify eligibility to work in the United States. The other proposed regulation would set forth guidance for U.S. businesses when handling “no-match” letters from the Social Security Administration (SSA) concerning submitted employee Social Security numbers. This regulation would also cover letters from the DHS concerning documents submitted by employees during the I-9 process.
“Most businesses want to do the right thing when it comes to employing legal workers,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “These new regulations will give U.S. businesses the necessary tools to increase the likelihood that they are employing workers consistent with our laws. They also help us to identify and prosecute employers who are blatantly abusing our immigration system.”
Typically, when a worker’s Social Security number does not match that worker’s name on tax or employment eligibility documents, the federal government sends a “no-match” letter asking them to resolve the discrepancy. Out of 250 million wage reports the SSA receives each year, as many as 10 percent belong to employees whose names do not match their Social Security numbers.
Employers have also expressed their frustration with being required to keep paper forms or to store the forms on microfilm or microfiche when all other aspects of their record keeping have been computerized. The interim regulation would give employers the option to sign and store Forms I-9 electronically.
It’s expected that many employers will experience cost savings by storing these forms electronically rather than using conventional filing and storage methods. In addition, because of the automated way in which electronic forms are completed and retained, they are less likely to contain errors. Finally, electronically retained forms are more easily searchable, which is important for verification, quality assurance and inspection purposes.
The proposed regulations are now subject to a 60-day public comment period, although the I-9 regulation will become effective on an interim basis as soon as it is published.
As Congress continues to consider comprehensive immigration reform, the DHS continues to urge members to increase the authority of the SSA to share information about Social Security “no match” letters with the DHS worksite enforcement agents. This information would allow the DHS to learn which employers had received “no match” letters from the SSA. It also assists investigators in identifying companies with the highest rate of immigration fraud.