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Earlier this year and with an enormous amount of press reporting, the Georgia legislature passed (and Governor Deal signed) the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act -- wide-ranging legislation designed to deal at a local level with the presence of undocumented and illegal aliens in Georgia. Although a federal court put a temporary hold this week on two parts of the new legislation (both addressing criminal statutes and law enforcement activity), the other 21 parts will go into effect on July 1, 2011 – most notably, the so-called “e-Verify” requirements, which affect private business hiring practices.

The good news is that, despite the July 1 start date, Georgia businesses have time until they must register and utilize the federal e-Verify system. How much time depends on how many employees the business has. Private employers with 500 or more employees must be compliant by January 1, 2012; those with at least 100 but less than 500 have until July 1, 2012; and those with at least 10 but less than 100 have until July 1, 2013. Businesses with under 10 employees are not required to use the “e-Verify” system. “Compliance” involves registering with the e-Verify system, using the e-Verify system appropriately, and obtaining an Affidavit to evidence compliance (Georgia’s Attorney General is required under the Act to post an approved Affidavit form on the Department of Law’s website by January 1, 2012). Those who must use the e-Verify system should begin the registration process at least 60 days before the deadline to allow time for registration and training.

Failure to comply with the new law carries serious civil and criminal penalties, so it is important to know whether the new law applies to your business and, if so, what you must do. Businesses should not determine whether the law applies to them based on a simple head count -- the term “employee” has a specific definition under this law, and there are timing requirements for when you count employees for purposes of eligibility. Please feel free to contact the attorneys in our Business Transactions department if you or someone you know needs help.