Bill proposes new employee screening tools

Employers would verify the legal status of prospective employees through a new all-electronic system using expanded state databases that may include biometrics under a bill introduced Feb. 28 by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas).

The New Employee Verification Act proposes to replace the Homeland Security Department's current E-Verify system, which began as a voluntary pilot program 10 years ago.

In E-Verify, employers check prospective new hires against Social Security Administration and Homeland Security databases. However, the E-Verify databases have significant errors that critics say would result in discrimination against millions of people if the system were mandatory rather than voluntary. Illinois adopted a law last year that prohibited use of E-Verify due to similar concerns.

Under Johnson's legislation, a new Electronic Employment Verification System would be created based on databases operated in each state. Those databases are already used to track down parents for child support. The data also would be matched with data in the Social Security database, for citizens, and in Homeland Security databases, for noncitizens.

The bill would allow biometrics to be added voluntarily.

"A voluntary system would be created using the latest technology to authenticate and protect a worker's identity. Private-sector companies, certified by the federal government, would first verify work authorization in the Electronic Employment Verification System, but would also authenticate the identity of employees by utilizing existing background-check and document screening tools. The identity would then be secured through a biometric identifier, such as a fingerprint or eye scan," Johnson said in a news release.

The legislation is supported by the Human Resource Initiative for a Legal Workforce coalition, which includes the National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Home Builders, American Council on International Personnel, College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, Food Marketing Institute, HR Policy Association, International Public Management Association for Human Resources and National Franchisee Association.

It is one of several proposals before Congress regarding employment eligibility verifications. In November, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) introduced a comprehensive immigration bill mandating that employers use E-Verify for new hires and also existing workers.

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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