USCIS Introduces New U.S. Passport Photo Matching For E-Verify

On October 4, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") hosted a webinar for employers to introduce the latest improvement to the E-Verify system, the addition of U.S. Passports and Passport Cards (collectively, "Passports," and individually, a "Passport") to the photo-matching process.

 

Photo matching is a feature of E-Verify that allows an employer to compare a newly hired employee's Employer Authorization Document ("EAD") or Permanent Resident Card ("Green Card") to the image of the card stored in the database of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"). However, this feature may be used only after: (i) the employee has attested to being a lawful permanent resident and/or authorized to work in the United States; (ii) the employee presents a newer version of a Green Card or EAD at his or her own initiative; (iii) E-Verify has confirmed the employee's employment eligibility; and (iv) any Tentative Nonconfirmations ("TNC") from the Social Security Administration or USCIS have been resolved. The present photo-matching process does not currently have the capability to verify the authenticity of older green cards, older EAD cards, or any of the other identification documents that an employee may present when completing the I-9 process.

 

Although part of E-Verify's overall photo-matching process, the photo-matching process for Passports has some key differences compared to the photo-matching process used for Forms I-751 (Green Cards) and I-766 (EADs). For example, one difference involves when to display a TNC case result. With the photo-matching process for Passports, if the employee presenting a Passport receives a TNC before the photo-matching step and then resolves the TNC, E-Verify will require the employer to complete the photo-matching step before displaying a case result. In the photo-matching process for Green Cards or EADs, if the employee presenting a Passport receives a TNC before the photo-matching step and then resolves it, the employer must display the case result immediately before moving forward with the photo-matching step. Additionally, it is very possible that E-Verify may not be able to access the employee's photo during the photo-matching process. If this occurs during the Green Card or EAD photo-matching process, the system will simply bypass the photo-matching screen altogether. However, during the Passport photo-matching process, the system will provide a "No Photo on this Document" message and employers must proceed with the process.

 

Another interesting difference is that, when photo matching Green Cards or EADs, E-Verify will display a thumbnail photo when viewing the case details. This, however, is not the case for Passports because the USCIS is not able to store Passport photos. Yet, E-Verify will display a thumbnail photo that an employer may attach and submit when referring a photo mismatch TNC to DHS. E-Verify will display this thumbnail photo whether the document is a Green Card, an EAD, or a Passport.

 

As of April 3, 2009, for employment verification (Form I-9) purposes, employees must present an unexpired Passport. E-Verify will now enforce this rule by looking to determine if the "hire date" is on or after April 3, 2009. If the hire date is before April 3, 2009, the system will accept an expired Passport (good news for federal contractors needing to submit older I-9 forms showing valid passports at the time). If the hire date, however, is on or after April 3, 2009, an error message will appear and the case will be automatically discontinued. The employer's only option is to create a new E-Verify case.

Hilton In Naples, FL Signs Up For The IMAGE Program

 

On May 26, 2010, the Hilton Naples signed an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to participate in the voluntary IMAGE program. This is the first company in the city of Naples, Florida to sign up for the IMAGE program. IMAGE, or ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, is a government initiative designed to improve employer self-compliance. Employers participating in IMAGE must submit first to a Form I-9 audit by ICE and verify all of their employees' social security numbers through the Social Security Number Verification System (SSNVS). Employers are also obligated to  sign up for E-Verify, conduct I-9 audits semiannually using a neutral party, ensure that only trained employees complete Form I-9 and use E-Verify, set protocols for responding to no-match letters, and much more. Employers using E-Verify must sign a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU which requires them to allow ICE (DHS) and SSA or their authorized agents or designees to "make periodic visits" to the employer.

IMAGE is NOT a “safe harbor” for employers. ICE has not indicated that IMAGE “partners” will not be subject to enforcement actions. Moreover, E-Verify participants have been subject to worksite enforcement actions. Given ICE’s inspection powers under IMAGE an employer should seriously consider the consequences of implementing these practices.

Department of Homeland Security Issues: Final Rule Rescinding "No-Match" Regulation

On October 6, 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it will issue a final rule, to be published in the Federal Register on October 7, 2009, rescinding the embattled “No-Match” regulation.  As we have previously reported, DHS is of the opinion that the receipt of a “No-Match” letter provided constructive knowledge to an employer that an employee may not be authorized to work. This rule would have created a “safe-harbor” procedure for employers to respond to “No-Match” letters, thus clearing employers from any knowing hire liability for that worker. 

DHS first announced its intention to rescind the “No-Match” rule on August 19, 2009, through the publication of a proposed rule. This action was the culmination of months-long federal litigation concerning whether or not the rule had been lawfully promulgated and whether or not it was constitutional.

In taking this step, effectively abandoning the litigation, DHS stated as follows: “After further review, DHS has determined to focus its enforcement efforts relating to the employment of aliens not authorized to work in the United States on increased compliance through improved verification, including participation in E-Verify, ICE Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers (IMAGE), and other programs.”

Employers beware, upon publication of the rule we fully expect the Social Security Administration to begin issuing new “No-Match” letters and DHS will still consider the receipt of a “No-Match” letter as an indicator of unauthorized employment.  Although there will be no “safe-harbor,” employers should have a plan and procedure in place to address the receipt of a “No-Match” letter. Having a proper plan in place not only helps an employer maintain the integrity of its workforce from an immigration perspective, but also assists an employer in meeting its W-4 reporting requirements with respect to Social Security withholdings.

SAVE Act Reintroduced in House and Senate

On July 23, 2009, a bipartisan group in the House and Senate reintroduced “The Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act” (“SAVE”), which would require employers to use E-Verify to ensure that their workers are authorized to work in the country. This SAVE legislation is largely the same as the bill first introduced in Congress on November 6, 2007.  According to its sponsors, the SAVE is designed to reduce illegal immigration by gradually phasing in the use of E-Verify and increasing border security with additional border patrol agents and new technology and infrastructure.

The SAVE legislation would phase in the mandatory use of E-Verify by employers over a four year period, starting with the federal government, federal contractors, and employers with more than 250 employees. Smaller businesses would be required to begin using the E-Verify system in a graduated manner. While passage now is uncertain, the reintroduction of the SAVE legislation reflects the public’s growing desire that employers hire and maintain only a documented workforce. Considered in this context, and examined against all the states that have passed legislation requiring the use of E-Verify, employers would be well advised now to become familiar with E-Verify so they can readily incorporate it into their operations when it becomes mandatory at the federal level.

ESTA Becomes Effective For VWP Travelers

Effective January 12, 2009, all foreign nationals traveling to the US under the Visa Waiver Program ("VWP") must comply with Electronic System for Travel Authorization ("ESTA") requirements. ESTA is a web-based system that determines the preliminary eligibility of individuals to enter the United States. Since its launch in August 2008, more than 1.2 million ESTA applications have been processed, resulting in an approval rating of greater than 99.6 percent. Most applications are processed in seconds, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ("DHS").

Foreign nationals citizens of VWP countries, who are seeking entry to the U.S. with a visa instead of under the VWP, do not need to use ESTA. While an ESTA approval is required before a VWP traveler can board an international carrier bound for the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol ("CBP") may still deny entry to a VWP traveler.

The citizens of countries currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

 

Manufacturer Gets Jail Time and More Than A Million In Fines For Immigration Violations

 The president of a Massachusetts military goods manufacturing company will pay a fine and serve up to 18 months in prison to settle charges stemming from a raid by federal immigration officials in March of 2007.  The company will also have to pay a fine of $1.5 million.  Under the terms of a plea agreement entered Nov. 3. MBI and its president and principal shareholder, pleaded guilty to several charges in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts alleging that they hired illegal aliens, helped to shield them from detection, failed to pay them full overtime, and fraudulently misled the government. The company specialized in the manufacture of handbags and leather goods. Between 2001 and 2006, MBI won a number of Department of Defense contracts worth approximately $230 million. As a result of these defense contracts, the federal government said, MBI increased its workforce from approximately 85 employees in 2001 to approximately 650 people in 2006.

The company president and two managers were arrested and charged with various violations of federal criminal law and the Immigration and Nationality Act in a criminal information March 6, the day officials from ICE raided the worksite and detained at least 361 alleged illegal aliens. The three were subsequently indicted in August 2007 by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy to harbor and conspiracy to hire illegal aliens. In a plea agreement entered on Nov. 3, MBI pleaded guilty to 18 counts of knowingly hiring illegal aliens, helping to harbor and shield illegal aliens from detection from authorities from 2004 to 2007; fraudulently misrepresenting Social Security numbers and committing mail fraud when it submitted Social Security numbers to the IRS and Social Security Administration knowing that many of the numbers had to be false given that many of the company's employees were illegal aliens; and failing to pay many employees overtime from 2005 to 2007. MBI's president pleaded guilty to helping harbor and conceal illegal aliens by allowing the company to submit false Social Security numbers for employees to the government as if they were real.

DHS/CBP's Electronic System For Travel Authorization - Mandatory Compliance Required For Travel Under The Visa Waiver Program

 The Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") announced that all nonimmigrant aliens traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program ("VWP") will have to obtain travel authorization from the Department’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization ("ESTA"). To comply with ESTA, VWP travelers must provide electronically to U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") the information currently collected on the I-94W Nonimmigrant Alien Arrival/Departure (Form I-94W) through the CBP ESTA website and receive authorization to travel before embarking on travel to the United States.

 

DHS Announces Secure Flight Program

On October 22, 2008, DHS announced issuance of the final Secure Flight Final Rule (the “SF Rule”). This followed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in August 2007. In its final form, the SF Rule shifts responsibilities for review of pre-departure watch lists from individual aircraft operators to the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) or CBP. This implements a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission by giving the government responsibility for monitoring watch lists.

Under the SF Rule, airlines now are required to collect the passenger’s full name, date of birth and gender when making an airline reservation. The TSA will receive this information and determine if it matches any “No Fly” or “Selectee” list maintained by government law enforcement agencies. The result will be returned to the airline, after which the passenger data in most cases will be destroyed to address civil liberties concerns.

Domestic and international carriers, and industry associations, have expressed many concerns in connection with the implementation of the SF rule. Among those, the fact the industry in general will need at least six months to upgrade its reservation and departure systems in order to come into compliance with the rule. Implementing the rule will also be extremely expensive, particularly, for an industry that has sustained large economic losses and operates almost at break-even point. Other concerns include travel disruption since the rule requires bulk buyers to provide the identities and personal information of each passenger 72 hours in advance of a flight; the disruption of foreign carriers operations by requiring passengers to be screened even if a flight does not intend to land in the United States; and the creation a data collection system likely to be at odds with other DHS data collection programs. The SF Rule will be implemented in two phases. First TSA will assume watch list responsibility for domestic flights in early 2009. Later that year, CBP will be given similar responsibility for international flights.

U.S. District Judge States Social Security Card Might Not Be Legal ID In Pilgrims Pride Immigration Case

On July 7, 2008, the Chattanooga Times/Free, reported that “a federal judge has suggested that when two men used false Social Security cards to gain employment at the local Pilgrim's Pride plant, they might not have technically broken the law.” Further, the Chattanooga Times/Free goes on to state that “U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice’s revelation that Social Security cards are not necessarily valid forms of identification, however, sent the defense back to the drawing board with no complaints from the federal government. Judge Mattice recalled a 2003 case in which the government prosecuted Tyson Foods for hiring illegal immigrants. In that case, U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar dismissed certain charges with regard to the use of a Social Security card, ruling that a certain section of U.S. immigration law does not list the document as a valid form of I.D. ‘This is an issue that will have to be decided by a higher court,’ Judge Mattice said. ‘I'm not sure you can base this charge on a false Social Security card.’ ” Although it is too early to tell, if Federal District Judge Mattice’s conclusions were to be upheld in the end by a higher court, this could impose a significant roadblock for I-9 enforcement.

TSA Announces Enhancements to Airport ID Requirements to Increase Safety

U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) announced in June 2008 that as of June 21 passengers willfully refusing to provide identification at a security checkpoint will be denied access to airports’ secured areas. This rule will apply only to individuals refusing to provide any identification or to assist transportation security officers establishing the individuals' identities. This new rule will not affect passengers who may have lost, misplaced, or not having an ID but who are considered "cooperative."

Passengers who cooperate with TSA officers, however, may be subject to additional screening protocols, including enhanced physical screening, enhanced carry-on and/or checked baggage screening, interviews with behavior detection or law enforcement officers and other measures. TSA’s announcement comes somewhat as a surprise, given the fact that all passengers are required a boarding pass along with identification in order to get past the security checkpoint at any airport in the US. Before this announcement, federal regulations prohibited “non-ticketed” individuals to go beyond passenger security screening at all U.S. airports.

House Appropriations Committee Approves DHS Funding Bill, Rejects E-Verify Extension

On June 24, 2008, The House Appropriations Committee approved a U.S. Department of Homeland Security funding bill for $39.9 billion.  However, the bill also rejects an amendment to extend the federal electronic employment verification program or E-Verify.

The approved bill carries an increase of $2.2 billion from that of 2008. The amendment submitted by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) extending the E-Verify program did not have enough votes at the committee level to pass. Without the extension, E-Verify is scheduled to expire November 30, 2008.