USCIS enhances E-Verify with photo tool

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services yesterday launched a voluntary online program to allow employers to check photographs presented by job applicants against photographs contained in federal databases. The goal is to reduce fraud resulting from false documents.

The Web-based program, renamed E-Verify a month ago, previously was known as Basic Pilot and the Employment Eligibility Verification System.

The program has existed for more than a decade but is now being promoted by the Bush Administration. About 23,000 employers to date have signed up for E-Verify, according to a USCIS news release.

The program is a prime example of the federal government's continuing need for technology capabilities to register and track employment status of foreigners residing or working in the United States.

Under E-Verify, a potential new employee presents an Employment Authorization Document, or a Permanent Resident "green card," to complete the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form. Using the online E-Verify system, an employer can compare the photograph on the authorization document or on the green card against images stored in USCIS databases.

In addition, the employer may compare Social Security numbers presented by the job applicant against those stored in DHS and Social Security Administration databases. Ninety-three percent of the time, an immediate match is made, USCIS said.

In those cases where the Social Security numbers and photographs indicate no match, and an employer receives a "no-match" letter, DHS has set out new regulations for what employers must do. Those regulations have been controversial: business and civil liberties groups point out that the Social Security Administration's databases have high error rates, potentially resulting in the loss of job opportunities for innocent people. A federal judge in San Francisco agreed to put a temporary hold on implementation of the new regulations as a result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nonetheless, USCIS is publicizing its new photograph matching capability as a useful tool for employees.

"Our current E-Verify system is not fraud-proof and was not designed to detect identity fraud," USCIS Director Emilio Gonzalez said in a statement. "The photo tool enhancement will give employers an additional resource to help verify identity and employment authorization status and is just one more valuable enhancement to an effective, fair and viable program."

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has filed suit against the state of Illinois to stop a new law that would forbid employers from using E-Verify. Under the Illinois law, the prohibition would remain in effect until the federal government can show 99 percent accuracy in its employment verification checks within three days.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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