E-Verify and Your Small Business

If your small business has employees, you need to understand E-Verify, a federal program designed to help employers determine if new hires are eligible to work in the United States. E-Verify is relevant for all employers and actually mandatory for some. Here’s what you need to know:

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is an online employment eligibility system overseen by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The program began in 1996 as a voluntary program. In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security began requiring all federal contractors to enroll in E-Verify and many states have their own guidelines for participation. Today, use is still a combination of mandated and voluntary users, but the momentum is gaining for greater reliance on the system. In fact, recently proposed legislation regarding minimum wage laws includes E-Verify in provisions for the new law.

How Does it Work?

The system is simple. Employers sign up to use E-Verify online and complete a brief training exercise on how to use the system. Once signed up, employers enter information from a candidate’s paper or electronic I-9 form. The system compares that information with available records from various federal agencies to determine if the individual is legally eligible to work in the United States. Sometimes photos are even available from passports or green cards that make it easier to prevent identity fraud.

What are the Pros and Cons?


Complying with federal hiring laws is important; penalties for non-compliance are harsh. E-Verify is the easiest way to ensure your small business hires only eligible employees. If you are a government contractor, you’re required to use the system. Additionally, several states have laws requiring the use of E-Verify, so it’s important to understand what your legal obligations are in this area before onboarding new employees.


Complaints and concerns about E-Verify include the following:

  • The system is only as accurate as the data in it. Naturalized citizens must provide updated information to the SSA in order to confirm their eligibility. This process takes time and may result in missed employment opportunities for new citizens.
  • In reality, once your business has E-Verify up and running, the process takes very little time, and, when compared to the potential penalties for noncompliance, the cost of the time it takes to use the system is minimal. That said, small business owners are often stretched to the limit and E-Verify can seem like a significant regulatory burden.
  • Once you are signed up to use E-Verify, you have to use it for every new hire. Picking and choosing is a form of discrimination; use of the system has to be applied consistently in your hiring process.

The Future

E-Verify is here to stay. If you aren’t already using it, it’s time to consider adding it to your list of best practices today.