Tennesseans taking jobs in both the private and public sectors must now prove their citizenship to their new employers thanks to a new state immigration law that took effect this month.
So far, business advocates say they’ve gotten a variety of feedback from employers about the new requirements which came at the hands of a Legislature that originally sought to impose a bundle of illegal immigration reforms before settling on the new hiring regulations.
Some larger companies have opted to continue using their current system of record keeping to satisfy the new law while some small businesses have said they like the idea behind the regulation but using the E-Verify system to weed out undocumented immigrants is cumbersome.
“It’s kind of a mixture,” said Deb Woolley, president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who added most businesses have had trouble navigating the electronic E-Verify system at first. “But once you got there and got familiar with it, it was pretty good. I guess it was a learning curve.”
Under the Tennessee Lawful Employment Act that kicked in Jan. 1, businesses and governments are required to either verify their new hires’ citizenship through the federal E-Verify system or maintain records like driver’s licenses or birth certificates that show the employees are lawfully in the country.
The new mandate comes in phases. Beginning this month, companies with at least 500 employees and state and local governments must either use the E-Verify system or maintain their own records.
Businesses with more than 200 employees will join those ranks beginning July 1, and small companies with more than six employees must adhere to the new requirements by Jan. 1, 2013.
The Department of Human Resources is also “strongly encouraging” all state agencies to use E-Verify in the new year instead of opting to collect employee documents, according to the department’s spokesman.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate is down to 9.1 percent but is still higher than the nation’s 8.6 percent unemployment rate.
Jim Brown, state director of the Tennessee chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said he’s also hearing a variety of feedback from his members about the new law. But by and large, members of his organization won’t be required to follow the procedures until next year.
“We feel like when we get to 2013, we’re going to get a lot more phone calls: ‘What do we need to be doing?’” said Brown, who advocated against early versions of law as it made its way through Capitol Hill last year where it passed almost unanimously. “We’ve said all along the illegal immigration problem needs to be addressed.”
Organizations violating the new law can be fined between $500 and $2,500 for each unverified worker, depending on the number of violations the Department of Labor issues to that company.