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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation, S.B. 664, on June 30, 2020 that mandates companies to participate in the federal E-Verify program to utilize state economic development incentives beginning July 1, 2020.1
Also, the legislation generally requires employers to verify employment eligibility beginning Jan. 1, 2021.
E-Verify Program background
The E-Verify Program is a web-based platform operated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). It allows employers to confirm employment eligibility of potential employees. It compares the information submitted on an employee’s Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 to DHS and SSA records to ensure that employees are legally authorized to work in the United States.2
The program is not yet federally mandated for all employers, but many states have begun requiring participation from specified groups of employers.
Businesses required to participate
Beginning July 1, 2020, all applications for economic development incentives submitted to Florida’s Division of Strategic Business Development of the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) must include proof of participation in the E-Verify program.3
Prior to S.B. 664, applications did not require employers to verify the work authorization status of their employees as a part of the application process. Through the E-Verify portal, companies can print an Employment Eligibility Verification document, which shows they are enrolled in the program. If the DEO determines that an applicant is not complying with the E-Verify requirement, the DEO must notify the applicant of the DEO’s determination of noncompliance and the applicant’s right to appeal the determination. If noncompliance is determined, the applicant must repay the economic development incentive to the DEO within 30 days after the final determination.4
The provision pertaining to economic development is a component of a broader mandate which generally will require all Florida employers, contractors and subcontractors to verify employment eligibility beginning Jan. 1, 2021.5
The E-Verify legislation was first proposed in October 2019, while the nation’s unemployment numbers were at an all-time low. However, by the time the legislation was enacted in June 2020, the nation was experiencing unprecedented unemployment and competition in the job market as a result of COVID-19’s impact on the economy. When asked about the new legislation, the governor’s spokeswoman, Helen Ferre, said, “Given the high unemployment rate due to COVID-19, it is more important than ever to ensure that the state’s legal residents benefit from the jobs that become available as Florida continues to reopen in a safe and smart manner.”6
The governor’s office credits the recent spike in unemployment for final approval of the legislation. By requiring enrollment in E-Verify, this legislation will ensure individuals eligible to work in the U.S. are given priority in Florida’s job market. The new E-Verify requirement for economic development initiatives is designed to provide Florida with a head start prior to the adoption of the general mandate to use E-Verify by the state in 2021.
This legislation could have a large impact on the hiring process for companies which might not have experience with E-Verify and are looking for immediate economic development support from the DEO. While E-Verify is a free service, requiring employers to utilize the service adds an administrative burden to the hiring process for those not already enrolled in E-Verify. This additional administrative cost will need to be taken into account prior to moving forward with a DEO incentive this year.
As of late March 2020, Florida ranked as the seventh highest state in terms of the number of employers enrolled in E-Verify, based on enrolled memoranda of understanding statistics, so many in-state employers already have experience with this program.7
Likewise, companies with substantial presence in the neighboring states of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, might have extensive experience with E-Verify, as these states all currently rank higher than Florida from a statistical perspective.8
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