The second owner, whose restaurant is in Manhattan, said she received a no-match letter alerting her to issues with almost every member of her kitchen staff, many of whom she had suspected were in the country illegally. Ultimately, she said, she decided not to tell any of her employees about the letter because losing the workers would doom the establishment.
With unemployment at just 3.7 percent, its lowest level in many years, restaurants are hardly the only businesses struggling to recruit low-wage workers. But for them the labor shortage has become especially serious: Restaurants have long been the economy’s largest employer of teenagers, whose participation in the work force has declined in recent years; and Wall Street investment has led to a glut of restaurant openings, oversaturating the market.
Many of the restaurant owners wringing their hands over the no-match letters run local eateries or small to midsize restaurant groups. The larger fast-food chains often require that their stores or franchisees use E-Verify, making them less likely to violate to immigration law.
Chipotle adopted the verification system after an immigration probe in 2011 cut its work force in Minnesota in half. And over the last year, Dunkin’ has taken an especially hard line, suing franchisees that failed to use E-Verify.
“You might start seeing more franchisers perhaps tightening up their employment verification requirements,” said Vikrant Advani, a labor expert at Rutgers University’s business school. “I see that possibly becoming a trend. Franchisers have to be careful.”
At the moment, 22 states mandate that at least some businesses use E-Verify. It’s unclear, however, how many restaurants have adopted the system. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees E-Verify, records the number of “food services and drinking places” that use it, but the agency does not keep track of restaurants specifically.
In the last three years, the number of food-and-drink locations using E-Verify has increased steadily, by about 20,000 to 25,000 a year; a total of 218,375 such locations have signed up over the history of the program, according to government data. And even in some states that do not require it, E-Verify is growing more popular. In Iowa, the local chapter of the National Restaurant Association has not heard any reports of no-match letters, possibly because so many restaurants in the state already use E-Verify, according to Jessica Dunker, the chapter’s president.