Employers will have to verify the immigration status of new hires under a bill Gov. Bev Perdue signed Thursday that aims to keep undocumented workers from getting jobs.
N.C. cities, counties and businesses that employ 25 or more workers will be required to use the federal government's E-verify system. The law will be phased in between now and July 2013 based on the number of employees.
Businesses with fewer than 25 workers or those that employ seasonal workers, who work fewer than 90 days in a year, will be exempt.
State agencies, offices and universities in North Carolina have used the E-verify system for the last five years.
Those suspicious of a business employing undocumented workers will be able to file an anonymous complaint with the N.C. Commissioner of Labor.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, said he was disappointed with the law as amended, since it will cover only about 20 to 30 percent of businesses and doesn't include regulations for businesses that contract with state agencies.
There are more than 225,000 businesses statewide, according to 2008 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Of those, about 71,500 employ more than 20 workers.
As of June 16 of this year, 4,840 establishments that employ more than five workers currently use E-verify.
With the new law, North Carolina is one of 17 states, including South Carolina, that have some form of E-verify requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"If we're more lenient on illegal immigrants in North Carolina than in bordering states, then what we should expect is more illegal immigrants," said Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, speaker pro tem and another sponsor of the bill.
Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that "the legislation adequately protects N.C. employers as they start complying with the new law."
The Latin American Coalition in Charlotte has been working with groups to speak against the legislation as it moved through the N.C. General Assembly. Jess George, the coalition's executive director, said while she applauds the push to ensure employers are responsible for making sure their workers are authorized, it doesn't take into account the potential consequences on an economy that relies heavily on undocumented workers.
Industries that rely on larger staffs but might have a smaller budget, such as construction, landscaping, service and agriculture, could be disproportionately affected by the law, she said. The law could lead some employers to pay workers under the table.
"Employers are already strapped to make ends meet without the mandatory process, and they might end up trying to skirt the system," she said.
A report by the Pew Hispanic Center estimates 325,000 undocumented immigrants in the state in 2010, slightly lower than its 2007 estimates. Undocumented workers make up about 5.4 percent of the state's labor force, the report states.
The law will take effect at different times for different employers:
October 2011 | cities and counties
October 2012 | more than 500 employees
January 2013 | 100 or more but fewer than 500
July 2013 | 25 or more but fewer than 100