An executive order requiring federal contractors verify the work eligibility of employees could mean a dramatic change to the program.

Currently, employers who use the federal E-Verify program are only allowed to check new hires' status. The executive order, as recently proposed, seems to mean some existing employees would also need to be checked.

"It's a deviation from the usual standard in terms of checking employees," said Roger Tsai, a Salt Lake immigration attorney. "Federal employers have to pay much closer attention to who they put on work sites and also on how they are hiring folks. There may be an impact in terms of bidding for federal contract jobs."

The executive order has not yet resulted in a final rule. It is available on the Federal Register for public comment until Aug. 12. A statement to the Deseret News by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said: "There may be substantive changes to the rule before it becomes final."

As written, the order would require contractors and subcontractors to "use E-Verify to confirm the employment eligibility of existing employees who are directly engaged in the performance of work under the covered contract."

However, in the statement to the Deseret News, CIS said the rule doesn't mean existing employees would be checked.

"The executive order instructs federal agencies to require contractor participation in E-Verify as a term of future contracts, and the proposed rule provides detailed guidance on how that requirement is to be implemented," the statement said.

E-Verify is currently a voluntary program used by more than 69,000 employers, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The executive order would make the program mandatory for federal contractors.

In fiscal year 2007, nearly $1.6 billion in federal contracts were awarded in Utah, according to a report by the watchdog organization OMB Watch's project. The University of Utah System was awarded just over $6 million in federal contracts that year, according to the report.

Lorina Tester, associate general counsel for the U., said the university does not currently use E-Verify but does verify the Social Security numbers of its new hires via the Social Security Administration.

"We do in fact have ways to verify them and we have been doing that," she said.

The U. also contracts with the state and is preparing for the July 1, 2009, implementation of a state law that requires E-Verify for state contractors, Tester said.

"It's an added burden," she said. "It's one we're willing to take."

Still, Tester said if the federal rule takes effect as written, it could mean rechecking a few hundred of the university's employees. In fall 2006, the university had 16,460 employees, not including students. The rule, as written, would give the university 30 days after a federal contract is awarded to identify and check employees working on that contract.

"That's really going to be the challenge, figuring out who are these employees," Tester said. "How many of these grants are going to apply, who is responsible for engaging in the work?"

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