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Survey Shows Increasing Appeal Of E-Verify Among Restaurant Owners

Wednesday, May 1, 2013
By Laura D. Francis

Restaurants and other employers in the food service industry are starting to use the E-Verify electronic employment eligibility verification system in greater numbers, and those who use it recommend it strongly, according to the results of a survey released April 30 by the National Restaurant Association and ImmigrationWorks USA.

Although only 23 percent of survey respondents indicated that they use E-Verify, 80 percent of those who use the federal system said they would recommend it to a colleague. In addition, 66 percent of those who use it said they enrolled voluntarily--compared with 27 percent who said they enrolled because it was mandated by state law and 2 percent who said they enrolled because they do business with the federal government.

Furthermore, 79 percent of E-Verify users reported a 100 percent accuracy rate with the system, and 73 percent said using it only required minor changes to their hiring and other employment practices.

Corporate chain restaurants were more likely than franchisees and independent restaurant owners to use E-Verify--49 percent of corporate restaurants use the system, as opposed to 24 percent of franchisees and 20 percent of independent establishments. E-Verify use also was more common among respondents with large staffs and those with higher annual sales volumes.

Of those that do not use E-Verify, 62 percent said it was because the restaurant is a small business with no human resources professional.

The survey was conducted in October 2012 and received 789 responses from restaurant owners and operators, non-restaurant food service operators, and supply chain professionals.

E-Verify Increasingly Popular
As recently as four or five years ago, “these numbers would've been unthinkable,” ImmigrationWorks USA President Tamar Jacoby said during a press call announcing the survey results. Back then, most employers saw a more than 10 percent inaccuracy rate and decided that using E-Verify would cause more trouble than it was worth, according to Jacoby, whose organization represents small and midsized businesses that advocate for an overhaul of the immigration system.

While there are still those “bad apples” that consciously hire undocumented workers in order to exploit them, the “overwhelming majority” of employers want to be on the right side of the law, she said.

“E-Verify comes as a big relief to lots of employers” that have had trouble identifying “falsely documented” workers--those who present fake identification or work authorization documents--Jacoby said. As the system's accuracy rate has improved and it is being more widely used, employers are starting to see it as a “helpful tool,” she added.

“There's a sea of false documentation out there,” Jacoby said, adding that “employers are mostly at the mercy of those false documents” because they risk being the subject of discrimination charges if they attempt to verify them.

NRA Supports Both Senate, House Bills
Angelo Amador, vice president for labor and workforce policy with the National Restaurant Association, which represents some 980,000 restaurants and food service companies, said his organization supports both the Senate and House proposals that all employers use E-Verify.

The Senate's proposed E-Verify mandate is part of a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill (S. 744) introduced April 17 by the bipartisan “gang of eight” (74 DLR A-11, 4/17/13). The House version (H.R. 1772), introduced April 26 by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) (81 DLR A-16, 4/26/13), is an updated version of the proposed Legal Workforce Act, which Smith has introduced in previous sessions of Congress.

Both bills would make E-Verify mandatory over a period of time--the phase-in period for S. 744 is five years, while the phase-in under H.R. 1772 is two years. In addition, both bills would require larger employers to use the system first, and both would apply the E-Verify mandate to the agriculture industry at the end of the phase-in period.

Amador said he supports provisions in the bills that would provide a paper-based or telephonic employment eligibility verification option for smaller businesses that may not have the same computer or internet access as larger employers. In addition, he praised “safe harbor” provisions allowing employers to make corrections to improperly entered information without facing repercussions from the government.

Jacoby noted that, although E-Verify has about a 98 percent accuracy rate when it comes to U.S. workers, it is only about 50 percent accurate in identifying undocumented workers. The reason, she said, is that the system is more likely to flag a made-up Social Security number than one that has been stolen or borrowed from someone else.

Under the safe harbor, employers that follow the E-Verify instructions but unwittingly wind up employing an undocumented worker would not face government action, Jacoby said.

Creating 'Level Playing Field.'
Although about 45 percent of survey respondents indicated that the pool of job applicants changed after they started using E-Verify--with several of those noting that the pool became smaller--Amador said the restaurant group supports mandatory E-Verify because it creates a “level playing field.”

Potential restaurant workers will not be able to avoid restaurants that use E-Verify and apply to work only at those that do not use the system if all businesses are required to use it, he explained. Furthermore, Amador said a national mandate will remove the uncertainty employers currently face where some states require employers to use E-Verify while others do not.

But Amador added that mandatory E-Verify should accompany “sensible immigration reform” that provides legalization to undocumented immigrants so that employers have access to that potential workforce. “Even in these economic times, the restaurant industry has been growing,” he said.

In addition, any E-Verify mandate also must make the employment eligibility verification process simpler rather than harder, Amador said. In that regard, he said NRA supports replacing the current I-9 employment eligibility verification form process with E-Verify rather than adding the E-Verify requirement on top of the I-9.

Comprehensive Versus Piecemeal
Amador had no preference for a comprehensive bill versus a piecemeal approach to overhaul, as long as the essential elements ultimately are passed by Congress.

But while the stand-alone House bill followed a statement by Goodlatte that House Republicans would be following a “step by step approach,” (80 DLR A-15, 4/25/13) Jacoby was not convinced that the piecemeal approach would be the one ultimately taken.

“I think people are jumping to conclusions way early about what's going to happen in the House,” she said, noting that other representatives favor a comprehensive approach, while even some who support piecemeal legislation view it as a pathway to a comprehensive legislative package.

But E-Verify is the part of the immigration overhaul that will affect the most businesses and possibly the most individuals, Jacoby said, which is “all the more reason to get it right.”

By Laura D. Francis

A summary of the survey results is available at /uploadedFiles/Content/News/Legal_and_Business/Bloomberg_Law/Legal_Reports/IW-NRA-E-Verify-Survey(1).pdf.

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