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Pilot Project

New database allows you to check employees' legal status.

Verifying a new hire's legal status can be a guessing game. Now the federal government is helping companies through the process with its free and voluntary Basic Pilot program. At press time, 10,290 companies had signed up for Basic Pilot, and nearly one-third of them had 25 employees or fewer, says Gerri Ratliff, chief of the Verification Division of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington, DC.

The program has a few kinks. Database information might not be up-to-date, and if a worker's status can't be immediately verified, employers must wait up to three days for a manual check to be performed. "No system is perfect, and Basic Pilot is no different," says Kevin Jernegan, an immigration specialist at George Washington University and author of a recent report on Basic Pilot. "I'd be tempted to call it an insurance policy [for employers] at this stage, given how vigorously enforcement measures are being pursued."

It's a good idea to get familiar with Basic Pilot because you could be required to use it soon. "It's likely electronic verification of an employee's work status will become mandatory in the next few years," says Deborah W. Meyers, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC. Visit the Basic Pilot website.

This story appears in the October 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »