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Legal US immigrants barred from work by E-Verify

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants to the US who have valid work visas could be prevented from taking up employment due to a faulty government database. The E-Verify system is a web-based database which is used by employers to check potential employees' immigration status.

Although they are not meant to, many employers use it as a screening system to weed out employees before offering them a job. This may mean that those who are wrongly listed as being ineligible for work never discover that their data is incorrect.

The E-Verify database was established in 2007. It is an internet based database which contains information about the immigration status of US residents and can tell employers whether an employee is entitled to work. It is currently used by only about 10% of US employers, often on a voluntary basis. The system is designed to be used by employers after they have offered an employee a job.

Numerous errors in the database

However, a report by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has found that there are numerous errors on the database. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that, if the system were used nationally by all employers, up to 200,000 people annually could be wrongly refused jobs.

There is a possibility that it will become a legal requirement for all employers to use E-Verify. A comprehensive immigration reform bill that was passed by the Senate in June would require all employers to check prospective employees against E-Verify within five years. This requirement has been placed in the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and immigration Modernization Act 2013.

The bill would reform the US immigration system. It would allow many illegal immigrants to join a 'pathway to citizenship' and increase the number of H-1B temporary work visas granted annually.

Reform bill would increase use of E-Verify

In order to placate right-wing Republicans the bill also contains measures to increase border security and to prevent illegal working. Requiring all employers to check new employees against E-Verify would prevent those in the country illegally from working, the bill's drafters hope.

At present, however, the speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, a Republican, is refusing to allow a vote on the bill in the House. Unless the bill is passed with 60% support by the House, it will not become law. Lobbyists are seeking to increase pressure on Boehner and House Republicans to vote in favour but there will not now be a vote until October at the earliest because Congress has closed for the summer vacation.

Even if the bill does not become law, however, it is almost certain that E-Verify will be used more and more in the coming years. The Department of Homeland Security says that over 400,000 US employers now use the system and 16 states now require the use of E-Verify for some or all employers.

225,000 people could be wrongly denied work

But USCIS has found that, of the 191,000 people who were refused work after E-Verify checks, as many as 15,000, about 8%, were actually entitled to work. If all employers were to check all employees, then as many as 225,000 people could be wrongly refused permission to work every year.

This problem will be made worse by the fact that many US employers are using the USCIS database incorrectly. According to the rules, employers should offer a job to a prospective employee and then carry out an E-Verify search.

However, USCIS has found that many US employers are using E-Verify to pre-screen potential employees. The employer will check a shortlist of candidates against E-Verify and remove any who are listed as ineligible from that list.

Those listed as ineligible for work may never find out

Chris Calabrese of the ACLU told UK newspaper The Guardian that this will mean that those who are listed as ineligible for work on E-Verify may never even discover that this is the case as they will have no opportunity to protest to their potential employer that they are actually legally entitled to work.

Mr Calabrese adds that the system may result in discrimination because the percentage of people whose information is listed incorrectly is far higher among non-citizens than among citizens. Among those with permanent resident visas (green cards) 4.2% of entries are inaccurate. Over all, only 0.3% of E-Verify entries are wrong.

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