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May 30, 2024

Bill would mandate E-Verify nationwide, raise minimum wage

Bill would mandate E-Verify nationwide, raise minimum wage

Dive Brief:

  • A bill proposed last week by six Republican senators would require all employers to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program to authorize employment eligibility and would increase the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $11.
  • Titled the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, the bill proposes a phased expansion of E-Verify that would require employers with 10,000 or more employees to use the system beginning six months from the date of enactment. Smaller employers would be categorized based on the size of their workforces, and each category would have a corresponding deadline to begin using E-Verify, an online federal system that allows employers to confirm the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S.
  • The bill also would increase penalties for employers that employ unauthorized workers and would permit DHS and the Social Security Administration to establish a self-verification process through which individuals may verify their employment eligibility.

Dive Insight:

In a statement, co-sponsors Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said the measures are intended to address illegal immigration. The pair introduced a similar bill in 2021 that failed to advance.

“Our proposal would raise wages for millions of workers without risking jobs, and tether the wage to inflation to ensure it keeps up with rising costs,” Romney said. “Additionally, requiring employers to use E-Verify would ensure that the wage increase goes to legal workers, which would protect American jobs and eliminate a key driver of illegal immigration.”

Ten states currently have E-Verify requirements for private employers. When Florida’s law was enacted this summer, proponents said it would protect jobs and contribute to national security, but others predicted a tough road ahead for employers and workers alike, especially in construction. In 2020, there were an estimated 1.4 million foreign-born, non-citizen, Hispanic laborers in the U.S., according to CPWR — the Center for Construction Research and Training.

For employers in Florida the law brings unpredictability at a time of high labor demand and a shortage of workers.

“There’s great uncertainty as we sit here today,” Mark Neuberger, a Florida-based labor and employment attorney at Foley & Lardner LLP, told Construction Dive. “It could all settle down or it could be disastrous.”

Industry reaction

Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives for the Associated General Contractors of America, said the association supports E-Verify — if its use is paired with other reforms, including the establishment of a temporary guest worker program for the construction industry. 

Calling the current national approach to immigration “extremely flawed,” Turmail said federal officials have long put the responsibility for checking workers’ legal status on employers — where he said it doesn’t belong.

“At least E-Verify gives them some ability to do that,” he told Construction Dive. “But make no mistake, expanding E-Verify does not compensate for the lack of broader, desperately needed immigration reforms. These include better border security, the establishment of a guest worker program and providing some kind of path to legal status for the undocumented workers currently in this country.”

What’s next?

While the future of the Senate legislation is uncertain, if the bill becomes law, its implementation will be slowly rolled out. Beyond the requirement taking effect within six months of passage for firms with more than 10,000 employees, companies with between 500 and 9,999 employees would be required to begin using E-Verify beginning nine months after enactment. The timeframe is expanded to one year for employers with between 20 and 499 employees and to 18 months after enactment for all other employers. 

Employers that begin operations after the bill’s enactment would have one year to comply.

The bill’s minimum wage increase provisions would also be implemented in a phased manner. The federal hourly minimum wage would be increased to $8 on the effective date, followed by increments of less than $1 each year until reaching $11 four years after the effective date. Thereafter, the minimum wage would be indexed to inflation every two years.

Ryan Golden contributed to this report.

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