E-Verify Self-Assessment Guides for Employers21 Aug 2012
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently released E-Verify Self-Assessment Guides. These guides are intended to assist participating employers in their use of the E-Verify program and related compliance with requirements for the I-9. Form I-9 audits and compliance have become a hot topic in more recent years. Following is an explanation of the purpose of the guides and the relevance of E-Verify to employers, including employers of students with OPT.
Background on E-Verify
E-Verify is an online system created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assist employers with the generally voluntary online verification employment eligibility of their new employees. The E-Verify system checks employees’ information against records maintained by the DHS and the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA).
A discussion of E-Verify can be found in our blog post, entitled Murthy Working to Improve Immigration Law (12.Mar.2012). The E-Verify system has been criticized by some for inaccuracies in the records maintained by DHS and SSA and concerns remain about the inappropriate termination of employment-eligible U.S. workers. However, it can be a valuable tool for some employers and a requirement for others, including employers of F-1 students seeking or possessing extended optional practical training (OPT) based upon science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees.
Self-Assessment Guides Can Help Employers
The USCIS states that the new E-Verify guides are meant to help employers implement a voluntary self-appraisal of how their companies are currently using the E-Verify system and to identify mistakes within their internal procedures. The guides simplify the E-Verify process and provide checklists for employers. The guides also help participating employers to comply with the existing employment verification laws. More detailed guidance is available in the M-274 Handbook for Employers and the E-Verify User Manual for Employers.
USCIS Identifies Common E-Verify Mistakes
The USCIS has identified five common employer mistakes in the E-Verify process. These are:
a) Creating duplicate cases (in the E-Verify system) for the same employee
b) Verifying employees hired before November 7, 1986
c) Immediately terminating employees who have received a tentative nonconfirmation of employment eligibility
d) Failing to create a case by the third day of employment
e) Creating cases for employees who were hired before the employer enrolled in the E-Verify program
E-Verify Employer Benefits: Like Extended F-1 STEM OPT
While E-Verify is generally a voluntary program, many employers participate in order to become eligible to work on certain government contracts that mandate the employer’s participation in E-Verify, while others may do so to qualify employees who are eligible for STEM F-1 OPT extensions. Students who have received degrees within the designated list of STEM areas can qualify for 17-month extensions of OPT employment authorization beyond the standard 12-month OPT period, for a total of 29 months, if the employer is registered in and using the E-Verify program.
Employers are more likely to be interested in STEM OPT employees, due to the recent expansion of eligible degree programs and the H1B cap limits. The new STEM program list was discussed in our NewsBrief, Expanded List of STEM Degrees Announced (11.Jun.2012). Information on the STEM OPT program is summarized on the USCIS WebSite in a set of Questions and Answers. Employers are cautioned that OPT employees must work with their schools’ Designated School Officials (DSOs) for issuance of the required forms for requesting STEM OPT extensions.
E-Verify is utilized by a wide variety of companies for many reasons, including STEM OPT extension employment. This allows employers to hire recent graduates in the higher demand STEM disciplines, on a longer timetable than is allowed under the standard 12-month F-1 OPT. This can be a more cost-effective option than filing H1B petitions for newer, untested, employees. Other employers use E-Verify either because they are required to do so for reasons unrelated to STEM OPT, like working on certain government contracts that mandate it, or because they are seeking the best available way to verify employment eligibility for their workforce. For all employers who use or are considering E-Verify, it is important to use it properly, which should be easier with the help of the new guides.
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