Running a small business is a constant balancing act. Entrepreneurs have to balance inventory with profits, employee hours with demand. Success and longevity depend on balancing a thousand and one factors--any one of which could tip the scales just enough to result in financial upset or worse.
Needless to say, small business owners understand well the need for balance, in their businesses and the public policies that impact them. The bipartisan immigration reform bill passed out of the Senate this week--while a huge step in the right direction for small businesses looking for smart immigration policies--is an example of a policy that needs more balance to create a successful environment for our country's job creators.
Small businesses strongly support many key provisions in the bill, including a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country and visas for both high and low-skilled workers. However, the bill advancing to the House of Representatives doesn't include the right amount of balance small businesses are looking for when it comes to determining whether a business owner has to verify the legal status of a worker. A program like E-Verify, which some businesses use to check whether the documents provided by employees match information in government databases, must include exceptions for very small businesses. Without that balance, the regulatory paperwork could become so burdensome as to tip those precarious scales in the wrong direction. And that's not good for anyone.
A group of senators proposed amendments that would create safe harbors for small businesses within an E-Verify system. Unfortunately, the amendment that would have delayed E-Verify requirements for small businesses with fewer than 15 employees until the system's error rate was stable didn't make it into the final Senate bill.
It is imperative something similar be included in final legislation. If it's not, employers with one, two or three employees will face the exact same requirements as businesses with 500 employees. For very small companies, which often have no HR departments, this could be too much of a burden. A one-size-fits-all policy simply won't work.
And small business owners know it won't. Small Business Majority's opinion polling found nearly seven in 10 employers support exempting very small businesses with fewer than five employees from E-Verify requirements. Of the small employers polled who have chosen to hire immigrants, the majority said one of the biggest challenges they face in using immigrant labor is concern about following the letter of the law. Next to differences in language and culture, a combined 41 percent cited concerns about whether they are complying with the law in hiring immigrants and the time and expense involved in verifying legal workers. This underscores why it's so critical a carve-out be included.
Small businesses are doing everything they can to pull the economy out of the doldrums. The last thing they need is a burdensome requirement that takes them away from running their business and growing the economy. Policymakers should keep small business owners' needs in mind while writing a final bill. Some small business owners' future success could hang in the balance.
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