Homeland Security’s SAVE program to verify employment

The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program Is Homeland Security’s online system of alien status determination. It is being promoted now as the “Basic Pilot.” It is voluntary. The media reports a 1.4% error rate, which I infer is the percentage of times when a person is reported not a “qualified alien” when in fact she or is he or even may be a citizen. However, the quality problems are far worse than that figure implies.
The Washington Post reported in May: that only 6,000 employers were enrolled, out of 8 million. A Government Accountability Office report issued in August criticized it for its inability to catch identity fraud, for flaws in the databases and for the possibility that employers will abuse the system. Nearly one in three noncitizens the electronic system cannot initially verify are later cleared based on a manual search of the records, according to government statistics. This 33% “false positive” rate is extremely high — in my experience, such a high rate dooms the program because it is a rare employer who would want to accept a false positive rate of more than 10%.
The GAO says that the search does not include, for statutory constraint issues, the 250 million entry Earnings Suspense File of deductions sent in without a valid SSN.
Per DHS, the Basic Pilot involves verification checks of the SSA and DHS databases, using an automated system to verify the employment authorization of all newly hired employees. Participation in the Basic Pilot Program is voluntary, and is free to participating employers.
The Basic Pilot program has been available to all employers in the States of California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas since November 1997 and to employers in Nebraska since March 1999. The Basic Pilot Program began operation in November 1997; was terminated in late 2001; and was reactivated in 2003. It is being expanded to all states.
Below is a description of how the program works, and the FAQ page from Homeland Security.
How it works (much per an HR website):

The employer first registers and signs a memorandum of understanding (go to: https://www.vis-dhs.com/EmployerRegistration). For an individual application of the system the employee (not job applicant!) fills out an I-9 form within three business days of hire. This form gives the employee’s name, date of birth, social security number, and an attestation that the employee is a United States citizen, lawful permanent resident, or alien authorized to work in the U.S. The employee presents to the employer either one document establishing both identity and work authorization (e.g., a U.S. passport or green card) or two documents that together establish identity and work authorization (e.g., a driver’s license and a social security card). The employer signs an attestation on the I-9 saying that he has examined the documents and they appear valid.
The employer logs onto a secure DHS website, enters the employee’s full name, date of birth and social security number. He chooses from a drop-down box which document/combination of documents the employee presented, and then clicks the submit button. The information about the employee is transmitted immediately to the SSA (Social Security Administration).
If the SSN (social security number) and the name match SSA records, the employer receives a message within two or three seconds that the employee is authorized to work and the process is finished.
If the SSN and name match, but the SSA cannot verify that the employee is work authorized (i.e., the SSN may have been issued “not for employment purposes”) the employer gets a message that DHS is attempting to verify work authorization. DHS usually responds within 24 hours, but the law gives it three days, since it has to check its records by hand if the automated check does not match the name and immigration document. If DHS finds a match, it tells the employer and the process is finished. Otherwise, the employer is told to have the employee check with DHS directly to clear up the problem.
To Hire or Not to Hire – If the SSN and name do not match, the employer receives a message to refer the employee to SSA to clear up the problem.
In either case where the employee is referred to SSA/DHS, the employer will be notified within 10 days that either work authorization is confirmed or not confirmed, in which case the employer must terminate the employee.. Questions? Call 202-272-8720.
Q: What is the SAVE Program?
Answer: The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program is an intergovernmental, information-sharing initiative designed to aid Federal, state and local benefit-issuing agencies and licensing bureaus in verifying a non-citizen applicant’s immigration status, thereby ensuring that only eligible non-citizens receive public benefits and licenses.
Q: What is the cost of the SAVE program to the user?
Answer: The cost of access to the Verification Information System (VIS) Customer Processing System (CPS) varies by access method. There are currently five access methods available: Web-Based (Web-1, Web-2, Web-3); Computer Matching (SFTP Priority Batch); and Web Services. The transaction cost varies from $.20 to $.26 per query for an Initial Verification and from $.24 to $.48 for an Additional Verification.
Q: What is the system’s response time?
Answer: For agencies using VIS-CPS, the response time for an Initial Verification is 3-5 seconds, and for an Additional Verification request, in most cases, is within 3-5 Federal government workdays.
For agencies using the manual verification method (Form G-845), the response time for mandated agencies is within 10 Federal government workdays from receipt by an Immigration Status Verification Unit and is negotiable with all other user agencies, usually within 20 working days..
Q: What are the procedures to sign a new agency into the program?
Answer: To join the SAVE Program and acquire access to VIS-CPS to perform immigration status verification, an agency must first establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the SAVE Program, and then establish a purchase order with the SAVE Program to pay for VIS-CPS transaction fees. To request participation in SAVE and to begin the MOU process, please access the following website to register:
For additional information regarding the SAVE Program, please call (202) 272-8720, or write to:
Phyllis A. Lancaster
Director, SAVE Program
Douglas Development Building, 2nd Floor
20 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20529
Q: What safeguards exist in the SAVE system to prevent benefit granting agencies and licensing bureaus from erroneously denying a benefit?
Answer: Under the SAVE program, a non-citizen is never denied a benefit or license based solely upon the response from an Initial Verification. An Additional Verification (automated or manual) procedure is in place as a precautionary measure.
Q: Does the SAVE Program provide information to Federal, state, and local benefit-issuing agencies and licensing bureaus to assist them in understanding the SAVE Program’s role in the immigration status verification process?
Answer: Yes. The SAVE Program provides participating benefit issuing agencies and licensing bureaus with user manuals, and conducts periodic user meetings to discuss the SAVE Program’s role and address the Users’ concerns. In addition, SAVE Program staff is available to answer questions either in writing or by telephone..
Q: Is the VIS-CPS database capable of providing the information that states and agencies will need?
Answer: The current SAVE Program can electronically verify the status of most lawful permanent residents as well as aliens in many other categories. For certain groups of non-citizens or when status cannot be verified immediately through an Initial Verification, the Additional Verification procedure (manual or automated) should be instituted. This additional verification ensures that all available DHS records systems can be checked and that benefits or licenses are not denied to eligible persons.
Q: For what programs do benefit providers have to verify an applicant’s immigration status?
Answer: Verification is mandatory for Federal public benefit programs. State and local agencies may choose to verify immigration status for applicants for state and local public benefit programs.
Q: What can states do to verify status before a final regulation is issued on the new verification system?
Answer: The law does not address this issue; states can decide whether to rely on self certification, document review, or contacting the SAVE Program to explore the possibility of signing up with the SAVE Program which administers the current status verification system. States can also refer to the Interim Guidance on Verification published in the Federal Register on November 17, 1997.
Q: Can the SAVE Program verify sponsorship information?
Answer: Yes, the SAVE Program can supply state agencies with information that sponsors provided on the original Affidavit of Support, Form I-864, when requested through the VIS-CPS or by submitting the Document Verification Request, Form G-845S, along with the Document Verification Request Supplement, Form G-845 Supplement, to their local USCIS office.
Q. How do I join the Basic Pilot Program?
Answer: Employers interested in joining the Basic Pilot Program must sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program. On July 7, 2004, the SAVE Program began offering a Web-Based Access Method for the Basic Pilot. To register and complete a MOU for participation in the Basic Pilot go to https://www.vis-dhs.com/EmployerRegistration, and follow the instructions.
Q. How much does it cost to participate in the Basic Pilot Program?
Answer: There is no charge to the employer. The government provides the verification services at no cost to employers.
Q. What equipment is needed to participate in the Basic Pilot?
Answer: You will need a personal computer with access to the Internet.
Q. What are the advantages for employers to volunteer to participate in the Basic Pilot Program?
Answer: The Basic Pilot removes the guesswork from document review during the Form I-9 process; it allows the employer to confirm the employment eligibility of all newly hired employees; it improves the accuracy of wage and tax reporting; and it protects jobs for authorized workers.
Q. Can I verify the work eligibility of all employees in my company?
Answer: No, you may only verify the employment eligibility of employees hired after you signed the MOU.
Q. When would I perform a verification query?
Answer: You would perform the automated employment verification query after an employee has been hired, and the Form I-9 process complete. This automated query must be initiated within 3 business days of hire. It is important to remember that the system may not be used to pre-screen an applicant for employment.
Q. Does participation in a pilot program eliminate the requirement of completing a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification Form?
Answer: No, Form I-9 requirements remain the same with the exception that all “List B” identity documents must contain a photograph.
Q. Can I use the system to re-verify the employment eligibility of an employee whose employment eligibility document has expired?
Answer: No, the system should not be used to re-verify employment eligibility. You would follow the procedures currently in place by completing Section 3 of the Form I-9.
Q. Have steps been taken to safeguard individual privacy in connection with the pilot programs?
Answer: Yes. The pilots are designed with safeguards to ensure that employer and employee information is protected.
Q. If I join the program, am I obligated to participate in the pilot until it ends?
Answer: No, if you join the program and decide that the pilot is not what you wanted or expected, you may drop out of the pilot. You would do this by sending written notice to the SAVE Program that you no longer want to participate in the pilot and give a brief explanation as to why.
For More Information
Contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program