Employers in South Carolina have received a warning from the state’s Department of Labor: check employees’ work-authorization status through the federal government’s E-Verify program or face immediate penalties. The crackdown signals the end of a grace period designed to enable employers to sign up for E-Verify, a free program that compares information entered on an employee’s Form I-9 to U.S. government records, between January and June 2012. Employers are required to process E-Verify queries within three business days of an employee’s date of hire for remuneration.

The requirement that South Carolina-based employers verify workers’ employment eligibility through E-Verify began with the state’s 2008 immigration law and first went into effect in July 2010. Prior to July 1, 2012, employers who were found to be out of compliance received warnings for a first violation. Under the new enforcement scheme, however, a first violation carries a one-year probation requiring businesses to submit quarterly reports to the state’s Department of Labor and a place on the agency’s website for six months. A second violation within three years requires the business to be shut down for between 10 days and 30 days by temporarily suspending its operating licenses. It also ensures that the employer will be permanently featured online. In addition, an agency determination that an employer knowingly hired an illegal immigrant and failed to use E-Verify raises the ante from an automatic, temporary suspension and $1,000 fine to a potential permanent shutdown through the revocation of all business licenses.

Jim Knight, the official tasked with overseeing immigration compliance for South Carolina’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, echoes the mindset behind the state’s new immigration enforcement strategy: “There is no free bite at the apple after July 1.”