What Is E-Verify and How Does it Work?

So what is E-Verify and how does it work?

E-Verify is an online system that helps you verify whether a potential employee is eligible to work in the U.S.

How to Use E-Verify

You submit information from an employee’s Form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification Form, to E-Verify, which serves as a sort of portal. The new hire’s information is then checked against databases operated by the Social Security Administration and a unit of the Dept. of Homeland Security.

E-Verify then informs you whether the new hire is authorized to legally work in the United States.

Its website claims E-Verify is a free service that can provide results in as little as five seconds. Available nationwide, it is now used by nearly 569,000 employers, including small business owners.


More than 1.4 million employment websites use it, and about 1,400 companies join it each week. Currently, there are 18 states that have active E-Verify use laws in place. Its use is also required by public entities and contractors, according to information provided (PDF) by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS is the branch of Homeland Security involved with E-Verify.

To enroll your company in E-Verify, you are required to provide basic information. This information includes company name, its doing-business-as (DBA) name, mailing address and number of employees. Then, you agree to follow E-Verify’s rules.

Webinars are available that provide information about various topics, including enrollment.

As for E-Verify’s rules, a key one is that you enter the employee’s Form 1-9 information within three business days of their start date.

How It Works

E-Verify sometimes displays a photo for you to compare to the photo on the employee’s document. This helps prevent fraud. You can’t specifically request a photo comparison. When you are authorized to do so, you compare it to the new hire’s photo pasted onto one of these documents: a Permanent Resident Card or “green card,” U.S. Passport or Passport Card.

Typically, 98.81 percent of the time, the information you enter matches what’s in the government’s databases, resulting in an authorization. Sometimes, E-Verify can’t instantly confirm authorization because a manual review of records in the government’s databases is required. E-Verify aims to alert you within 24 to 48 hours if this is the case, then sends the results. If the information doesn’t match, procedures are provided for you to follow.

However, according to an April 2014 paper prepared for The Department of Homeland Security by Westat, most companies don’t do this. The report called “Findings of the E-Verify Survey,” (PDF) says most employers using E-Verify simply terminate workers’ employment lacking a final confirmation. The report notes:

“In 2013, most E-Verify companies with workers receiving FNCs [Final Nonconfirmations] reported that their companies always terminated the workers’ employment immediately (83 percent) while a few (8 percent) indicated that they sometimes terminated workers’ employment immediately.”

Addressing Problems with the System

Taking aim at early criticism of E-Verify — that its substantial learning curve required an allotment of time and effort unrealistic for small businesses — the website now provides online tutorials, reference guides and manuals. E-Verify also offers dedicated customer service.

In addition, it prompts you to make decisions before you even enroll, such as who at your company will access E-Verify. Browser system requirements are Firefox (version 3.0 and above), Chrome (version 7.0 and above) or Safari (version 4.0 and above).

E-Verify was developed following the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). That legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The purpose was to impose stricter limits on immigration while expanding grounds to deport illegal immigrants, including those convicted of crimes.

Concerns Remain

There remain concerns about the potential impact on small business if E-Verify were made mandatory in the United States. That now seems a distinct possibility.

In early March, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 1147, also known as the Legal Workforce Act. If made law, it requires every new hire in the United States to be electronically verified. (E-Verify may not be the system ultimately used should the law be passed. Any system used, however, will be similar to E-Verify.)

Notice the language of the bill:

“Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to direct the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish an employment eligibility verification system (EEVS), patterned after the E-Verify system. (Eliminates the current paper-based I-9 system.)”

According to the April 2014 Westat report, some employers still report negative experiences:

“For example, small percentages of E-Verify employers in 2013 agreed that it was sometimes impossible to fulfill E-Verify process obligations (11 percent) or submit case information within deadlines (14 percent). In addition, a few E-Verify employers (ranging 2 to 6 percent) agreed that using E-Verify has made it difficult to attract qualified and work-authorized job applicants, has resulted in some existing employees choosing to leave the employer or in the termination of some existing employees’ employment, or has reduced the employer’s competitiveness.”

Also of note:

“Compared with large companies, small companies were less likely to agree that E-Verify is highly accurate and an effective tool. Small companies were also less likely to agree that the number of unauthorized workers who applied for jobs decreased because E-Verify was used, to agree that using E-Verify resulted in the firing of some existing employees, and to agree that it was sometimes impossible to submit case information by the required deadline. Among companies that have ever had workers who received a TNC [Tentative Nonconfirmation], small companies were also more likely than medium-sized and large companies to indicate that assisting workers with TNCs was a burden.”

The cost of setting up E-Verify “has remained fairly stable,” with the median cost pegged at $100 in all three survey years. However, a footnote to that statement revealed that: “because of the high costs reported by a small number of employers, the median (rather than mean) costs have been used for the survey years.”

Cost Still an Issue

Cost has been a chief criticism of E-Verify all along. Commenting in 2013 about the possible impact of E-Verify on small businesses, DeAnne Hilgers of Lindquist & Vennum LLP, explained:

“The costs to employers are significant, especially to smaller employers who do not have HR staff. Often, that HR person is the company owner who is up to his or her elbows with their employees working to make the company successful. When the employer loses an employee, they are losing twice the direct productivity — the lost worker’s and their own.”

One piece of data haunting E-Verify for years is a 2011 finding published by Bloomberg, which suggests that H.R. 1147 would cost employers $2.6 billion to implement.

Overall, public support for E-Verify use is strong. A recent Gallup poll found that 85 percent of likely voters think businesses should be required to use this system.

Image: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service/YouTube

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Ed Lieber

Ed Lieber Ed Lieber is a staff writer for Small Business Trends. He is a journalist and marketing copywriter with 20 years of experience writing, editing and managing for print and digital vehicles.

3 Reactions

  1. Aira Bongco

    But how about outsourcing work overseas? Is this just for people who hold positions in companies in the US?

    • Jimmy W Lancaster

      Maybe when we run out of people who would like to work in the US we can think ab I UT outsourcing. But until then we can keep our jobs where they belong.

  2. Is this another way to discriminate based on age, race or other characteristics.
    Accessing Social Security allows age to be disclosed.
    How can only the SS# be revealed?

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