Businesses have three weeks remaining to sign up for a new system that checks the immigration status of new hires in South Carolina, which will be required under a state law passed earlier this year.
The law, which takes effect January 1, mandates that all new hires be run through the federal E-Verify database to make sure the employee is in the country legally. Companies that do not sign up risk losing their license.
“(Employers) simply take the I-9 form that every employer has had to complete on a new hire under federal law,” said Jim Knight, the administrator at the state Office of Immigrant Worker Compliance said, “They take key data off that I-9 form… and enter it into the E-Verify database and literally within five or six seconds, the database tells the employer whether it’s okay to employ that person or not.”
There are very strict rules about the system. Companies can only use it to check employees backgrounds immediately after they are hired. The system cannot be used to run checks on existing employees or job candidates.
The rules were passed in July as part of the immigration reform law, which is currently being challenged by the Justice Department. However, the federal government is focusing on other parts of the law (notably an enforcement provision that gives police the power to check a person’s immigration status). The Justice Department’s lawsuit does not mention the new E-Verify requirements.
However, there is concern that small businesses in South Carolina may not be aware of the new rules.
“Our big employers have been under the system for a while. They understand it’s easy to comply,” South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President Otis Rawl, “I think the smaller companies… have got a lot to be almost fearful of by the fact that they don’t understand what the law says.”
Companies will also have to run an employee’s name through E-Verify within three days of hiring them.
If the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (LLR) realizes a company is not using the database after January 1, it will give the company a warning to register within three days. If the company still does not comply, LLR will begin assessing penalties against the business. Companies that still do not sign up risk losing their license to operate.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of complaints one way or the other,” Rawl said, “I think it’s been going pretty well.”
Larger businesses are already using E-Verify and Knight says he has gotten few complaints. “The only cumbersome part of the process is getting enrolled, reading the user manual, and taking the tutorial,” he said, “But once you get enrolled, it’s a snap.”