The House Judiciary Committee this week approved by a vote of 20-13 the Legal Workforce Act. This bill, authored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), preserves jobs for legal workers by requiring U.S. employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires through the E-Verify system.

The Legal Workforce Act is supported by a broad coalition of affected industries, including the Food Manufacturers Immigration Coalition, of which the National Chicken Council is a member; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the National Restaurant Association; the National Association of Homebuilders; the International Franchise Association; the National Federation of Independent Business; and the Leading Builders of America.

When the E-Verify program was created in 1996, the meat and poultry industries embraced the system and have been urging Congress and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to make improvements in the program to keep up with technology as it advances.  E-Verify checks the social security numbers of newly hired employees against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security records to help ensure that they are genuinely eligible to work in the United States.

The program quickly confirms 99.7 percent of work-eligible employees and takes less than two minutes to use. Approximately 580,000 American employers currently use E-Verify and nearly 6 in 10 of America’s smallest businesses believe every employer should have to use E-Verify. Additionally, 71 percent to 85 percent of Americans support requiring all U.S. employers to use E-Verify.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) praised today’s committee vote. “The Legal Workforce Act brings our nation’s employment eligibility system into the 21st century. Rather than relying on the current paper-based I-9 system that is susceptible to fraud, this bill requires all U.S. employers to use a web-based system, E-Verify. This program takes less than two minutes to use and easily identifies whether or not a new employee is allowed to work in the United States,” Goodlatte said.

Components of the Legal Workforce Act include:

Repeals I-9 System:  The Legal Workforce Act repeals the current paper-based I-9 system and replaces it with a completely electronic work eligibility check, bringing the process into the 21st century. However if an employer chooses to keep using the paper-based I-9 system they may do so.

Gradual Phase-In: Phases-in mandatory E-Verify participation for new hires in six month increments beginning on the date of enactment. Within six months of enactment, businesses having more than 10,000 employees are required to use E-Verify. Within 12 months of enactment, businesses having 500 to 9,999 employees are required to use E-Verify. Eighteen months after enactment, businesses having 20 to 499 employees must use E-Verify. And 24 months after enactment, businesses having 1 to 19 employees must use E-Verify. Allows a one-time six month extension of the initial phase-in. It also provides that employees performing “agricultural labor or services” are subject to an E-Verify check within 36 months of the date of enactment.

Voluntary Use: Allows employers to use E-Verify to check the work eligibility of their current employees as long as they do so in a non-discriminatory manner and of all employees who are in the same geographic location or in the same job category.

States as Partners: Preempts duplicative state laws mandating E-Verify use but gives states prominent roles in enforcing the law. Specifically, it retains the ability of states and localities to condition business licenses on the requirement that the employer use E-Verify in good faith under federal law. In addition, the bill allows states to enforce the federal E-Verify requirement and incentivizes them to do so by letting them keep the fines they recover from employers who violate the law.

Protects Against Identity Theft: The bill allows individuals to lock their Social Security number (SSN) so that it cannot be used by another person to get a job. It also allows parents or legal guardians to lock the SSN of their minor children. And if a SSN shows a pattern of unusual multiple use, DHS is required to lock the SSN and alert the owner that their personal information may have been compromised.

Safe Harbor: Grants employers safe harbor from prosecution if they use the E-Verify program in good faith, and through no fault of their own, receive an incorrect eligibility confirmation.

Strengthened Penalties: The bill raises penalties on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants in violation of the requirements of the bill. The bill also creates a penalty for individuals (employees or employers) who knowingly submit false information to the E-Verify system.

Identity Authentication Pilot Programs: The bill requires DHS to conduct at least two pilot programs aimed at using technology within the E-Verify system to help further prevent identity theft in the system.

The other three immigration measures taken up by the Committee this week were:  HR 1148 – the Michael Davis, Jr. in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act; HR 1149 – the Protection of Children Act of 2015, and HR 1153 – the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2015.