E-Verify Enhancements for Web Services Providers in 2019
It’s not widely known, but E-Verify, the “free” system for confirming work authorization in the United States, actually leads a double life. Most organizations know E-Verify as an entirely web-based system which can be accessed directly through a browser after a new hire’s Form I-9 has been completed. HR and hiring managers manually transcribe information from each and every I-9 into the E-Verify web interface and follow a series of prompts (and pages) to hopefully arrive at the verification promise land – an immediate employment authorized result.
But, unbeknownst to many, E-Verify also exists in an entirely different (and somewhat nebulous) state which enables employers and employer agents to access E-Verify from their own software applications (largely, without needing to use the E-Verify web interface). This version of E-Verify, made possible through the magic of “web services,” offers several distinct advantages to employers – not the least of which is the ability to tightly integrate E-Verify within an electronic I-9 workflow. This means no more re-typing of information, manually tracking TNC deadlines, and figuring out when you need to photocopy a document during the I-9 process.
Of course it’s not all wine and roses, because the E-Verify Web Services method has its own set of complexities – requiring your provider to dedicate a substantial amount of time developing an interface which adheres to both the business logic behind E-Verify as well as the technical rules imposed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
And then there’s the timing issue. DHS releases upgrades to the E-Verify “web version” first, and then follows-up with detailed specifications for the “web services” portion through a document called an “Interface Control Agreement” or ICA. Each ICA will have a version number, and more importantly, a deadline for implementation – typically 6 months after release.
Which brings us to our topic for today: the much-anticipated release of “version 30” of E-Verify for web services providers. If you’re an employer using an electronic I-9 system with an integrated E-Verify component, this blog is for you. We’ll provide a sneak peek at the latest updates in version 30 that some of your “web version” counterparts have been enjoying since last year. We’ll also discuss some of the advantages and potential disadvantages associated with the various enhancements.
But first, let’s take a step back in time to April 2018, when DHS released several new “modernization” updates to the E-Verify web platform which were designed to improve users’ experience, reduce errors, and increase the overall speed and accuracy of the E-Verify process. Many of these changes were entirely cosmetic and already present in electronic I-9 applications with an E-Verify interface. For example, the 2018 web update added plain language instructions, real-time error checking, help text, and simpler user entry (to name just a few enhancements).
However, the 2018 web update also introduced several “process” changes as well, some of which are now being included in the version 30 update (as described below). By and large though, all of the v30 changes are designed to streamline the verification process – especially as the agency prepares for an eventual mandatory E-Verify. Let’s take a closer look…
E-Verify Version 30 Enhancements
- Draft cases
One of the primary concerns surrounding E-Verify (especially with regards to a potential federal mandate in the future) relates to its processing capacity – whether the system can handle an ever-increasing number of cases as new participants come onboard. While E-Verify has seen significant improvements over the past few years, there are the occasional bumps in the road when case requests cannot be handled in a timely fashion.
When these slowdowns occur during a web services submission, an employer’s electronic I-9 application may “give up” on a particular request and then try again from the beginning. Meanwhile, in some instances, E-Verify will eventually create the case from the initial request. When this occurs, two things happen: (1) the electronic I-9 application has no idea that a case exists and so the employer will typically create another submission; and (2) when the second request is processed, E-Verify reports a duplicate case.
In an effort to reduce the number of these abandoned or so-called “orphaned” cases, the E-Verify system will now support the creation of draft cases that can be resumed (picked up) at a later time. Once implemented, this update should be largely “behind the scenes” for employers and HR users, but will hopefully reduce the number of phantom duplicate cases.
- Enhanced duplicate check
Speaking of duplicate cases, version 30 modifies the duplicate case check process so that it can now be run before a case is created – based on a limited dataset. This enhancement was designed primarily for the “web” version of E-Verify, as it alerts users to duplicates earlier in the process (thereby reducing the amount of data entry needed to find out whether or not a case may have already been created for a particular individual).
It’s obviously less impactful for web services users (who do not have do any E-Verify typing at all). As before, if a duplicate case is found, employers may continue creating a new case and indicate the reason.
- Enhanced photo match
This enhancement is a bit of a misnomer, as E-Verify has not really changed or substantially modified the photo matching process. Employers will still compare a copy of an employee’s passport, passport card, EAD, or green card with the photo displayed in the E-Verify system in order to determine if there is a match.
The enhancement (if you will) is the addition of a third possible response to the photo matching question – “no photo displayed.” This option should be used when a photo is not shown, or the photo is not of a person (e.g., the image is the back of a passport). As it stands now, employers using web services applications are instructed to respond with “Yes, the photo matches” in these instances – which always seemed a bit strange, considering that the employer really has no idea whether or not the actual image matches at all.
In addition, when the scan and upload step of the workflow is reached, a user will be able to upload both a front and back picture in two separate fields.
- Dual TNC/Simultaneous Verification and Notification
Did you know that some E-Verify cases can actually receive two tentative nonconfirmations (TNC) responses – one from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and one from the DHS? While this outcome may seem particularly unlucky for the employee, it can happen quite easily. For example, imagine the information on the I-9 does not match the SSA database (for whatever reason) – this will result in a SSA TNC. And then imagine there is mismatch with the employee’s US passport, DMV information, or displayed photo. This will result in a DHS TNC.
Employers using electronic I-9 systems (with integrated E-Verify) will currently go through two entirely separate processes – the SSA TNC resolution followed by the DHS TNC resolution. In the newest version of E-Verify, these dual TNCs will be consolidated into one – meaning that the employee will receive only one TNC notification followed by one dual Further Action Notice.
While this dual processing definitely provides for faster results (to both the employer and the employee), there is one important thing to note: an employee who chooses to take action to resolve a dual TNC is only given 8 federal government work days to visit both agencies (as opposed to the current process which provides 8 days for each agency).
- Auto-Close for Employment Authorized Cases
Last but not least, we have my favorite enhancement of v30 (which is long overdue) – the auto-closing of certain E-Verify cases. If you’ve been using E-Verify for some time, you’re likely well-aware of the case closure routine – a necessary step at the end of verification process whereby you indicate whether the employee is still employed with your organization and then select a “case closure statement” which accurately represents the final disposition of the case. This is where you can indicate the employee’s status with your organization (continues to work, terminated, or voluntarily quit), or inform E-Verify that the case was invalid for a particular reason.
These statements have changed over the years, but the vast majority of cases will typically end with “the employee continues to work after receiving an employment authorization result.” The problem, however, is two-fold: (1) employers often forget to officially close these cases (creating potential compliance concerns during an E-Verify review) or (2) employers incorrectly close these cases by accidentally choosing the wrong statement. This second issue can be particularly troublesome when the wrong statement notes that the employee was terminated or continues to work after receiving a final nonconfirmation result.
But v30 comes to the rescue with a new auto-close functionality (which again, has been available to a degree in some electronic I-9 solutions). Under the v30 framework, E-Verify cases that receive an Employment Authorized during any step of the verification process will be automatically closed with a standard closure reason.
One (potential) downside of this automation is that employers may not be able to catch/correct certain issues before an E-Verify case is fully closed and resolved. For example, employers are often instructed to close cases as invalid if they discover minor errors (such as incorrect start date) and resubmit with correct information.
Taken all together, version 30 is a fairly substantial system upgrade for electronic I-9 providers, requiring the development of new business logic, interface changes, and the integration of new API endpoints. The USCIS has also announced that electronic I-9 providers must update their web services interface to incorporate these changes no later than October 26, 2019. If a provider fails to make the changes within this time period, they may be unable to interact with the E-Verify system at all – a fairly dire consequence for both the provider and all of its clients.
In closing, I’ll let you in on one final secret – according to the Department of Homeland Security, submissions from employers using web services applications account for more than half of all cases processed through the E-Verify system. This statistic, while not entirely surprising, highlights the increasing importance of web services in the E-Verify development process. This is especially significant for large employers that frequently rely upon electronic I-9 providers and other highly interconnected systems in the hiring process.