Illegal AliensSignificant Obstacles to Reducing Unauthorized Alien Employment Exist Gao ID: GGD-99-33 April 2, 1999
More than 12 years after the Immigration Reform and Control Act created an employment verification process to prevent employers from hiring illegal aliens, significant numbers of unauthorized workers are still obtaining jobs. The widespread use of fraudulent documents by unauthorized workers has undermined the effectiveness of the current verification process, which relies on identity and employment eligibility documents that applicants must show employers when applying for jobs. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has undertaken several initiatives to improve the employment verification process to make it less vulnerable to fraud, but significant obstacles remain. First, INS has started to test three pilot programs in which employers electronically verify an employee's eligibility to work. However, employers' participation in the pilot programs has been significantly less than expected. Second, INS has made little progress in reducing the number of documents that employers can accept to determine employment eligibility. Since 1994, INS has devoted about two percent of its enforcement workyears to its worksite enforcement program, which is designed to detect noncompliance with the law. INS completed about 6,500 investigations of employers in 1998--about three percent of the U.S. employers believed to have unauthorized workers on their payrolls. INS' worksite enforcement program has infrequently imposed sanctions on employers. More than eight out of 10 investigations completed during the period GAO reviewed did not result in a penalty. INS is now changing its approach to worksite enforcement, but it is too soon to know how these changes will be implemented or to assess their impact on the hiring of unauthorized workers.
GAO noted that: (1) the effectiveness of the employment verification process, which relies on identity and employment eligibility documents that employees are to show employers, can be undermined by unauthorized aliens using fraudulent documents; (2) INS has undertaken several initiatives to improve the employment verification process to make it less susceptible to fraud, but significant obstacles remain; (3) INS is testing or expects to test three pilot programs in which employers electronically verify an employee's eligibility to work; (4) INS has made little progress toward its goal of reducing the number of documents that employers can accept to determine employment eligibility; (5) in February 1998, INS issued proposed regulations to reduce the number of documents that can be used from 27 to 14; (6) however, INS received numerous comments on the proposed regulations and INS officials do not know when these regulations will be finalized; (7) INS has begun issuing new documents with increased security features, which INS hopes will make it easier for employers to verify the documents' authenticity; (8) however, aliens are statutorily permitted to show employers various documents other than the INS documents that authorize aliens to work, and other widely used documents do not have the security features of the INS documents; (9) since 1994, INS has devoted about 2 percent of its enforcement workyears to its worksite enforcement program, which is designed to detect noncompliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act; (10) in 1998, INS completed about 6,500 investigations of employers, which equated to about 3 percent of the country's estimated number of employers of unauthorized aliens; (11) DOL has provided limited assistance to INS in identifying employers suspected of hiring unauthorized workers, and, under a new agreement with INS, DOL's role will be reduced; (12) the results of INS' worksite enforcement program that indicate it has infrequently imposed sanctions on employers; (13) INS is changing its approach to worksite enforcement; (14) INS has developed an interior enforcement strategy with five strategic priorities; (15) two of the priorities involve worksite enforcement, with one calling for INS to pursue the criminal investigation of employers who are flagrant or grave violators; and (16) since INS is just beginning this new approach, it is too soon to know how the proposed changes will be implemented or to assess their impact on the employment of unauthorized workers.Recommendations
Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.Director: Team: Phone: