What is a "No Match" Letter?

Are they being used incorrectly as a weapon against immigrants?

"No Match" Letters are letters sent out by the Social Security Administration to workers for whom there is a discrepancy between their name and Social Security number in the database. These "No Match" letters are becoming a weapon for governments and employers to use against immigrants.

It has been reliably estimated that the Social Security Administration has issued approximately 10 million "No Match" letters in the past year which were delivered to around 4% of this country's 250 million residents. If we calculate that there are perhaps 11 million undocumented persons in the US, 10 million represents a large proportion of them, even after taking into account that not every person receiving a letter is undocumented.

Cassondre Buteyn, of Wilson Law Group, explains that it is the Social Security Administration that sends these letters to companies to inform them that the Social Security number on file for an individual employee does not match the number reported by the employer. It may be that the Social Security number in question does not exist but is being used by someone, or that there are two or more persons listed as using the same Social Security number.

According to Brian Payne of Workers' Interfaith Network (Centro Interfé para Justicia Laboral), the purpose of these letters is to ensure that the taxes a person pays are being credited to the correct Social Security record, and the letters should not be used to fire the person or take away his rights in any way. The most important thing to remember is that these letters do not indicate that a worker is undocumented; therefore, legal status should not be discussed with employers or with anyone else.

What happens when "No Match" Letters are sent?

The usual practice with "No Match" letters is tied to the complexity of the Social Security Administration's database. Between 60-70% of the discrepancies found have to do with workers who hold valid documents for working in the United States. For this reason, "No Match" letters are sent to workers so that they can correct the discrepancy, and employees are not to use the letters to punish workers in any way, and should not ask workers to resubmit their work authorization just because their names appeared on a letter.

Attorney Cassondre Buteyn, when asked about these controversial letters, brought up an important point: some "No Match" letters are sent out as a result of clerical errors; an incorrectly written number or family name, or a change of family name due to marriage that was never recorded in the government's files. For these reasons, the letter the government sends to the employer does not order him to dismiss the worker; rather, it informs the employer that the Social Security number that he provided does not match the one on file with Social Security, and that he should take measures to correct the error.

Buteyn recommends carefully checking all documentation to avoid misunderstandings. Persons who change their last names when getting married should inform their employers of the change and make the revision on all important documents. This simple step can help to avoid headaches and misunderstandings.

Cassondre stated that these are important measures to take, since many employers assume that if they receive a "No Match" letter for an employee, it means that they are automatically required to dismiss that employee for being undocumented. Furthermore, many workers, upon learning that their employer has received a "No Match" letter for them, simply give up and leave their jobs without a fight.

The situation described above is very common, according to Cassondre. When an employee receives this letter he becomes frightened and feels cornered; for fear of being reported by the employer, he just leaves his job without notice, often looking for work that does not pay as well and with fewer benefits so the new employer won't ask questions about his immigration status.

"No Match" letters actually include a statement to the effect that they have nothing to do with immigration status, and should not be used to take adverse action against employees. On June 16, 2008, a Federal Appeals Court passed a significant judgment in defense of this statement, deciding that "No Match" letters may not be used as a reason to dismiss employees.

In the summer of 2007, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new and controversial proposal regarding "No Match" letters that would have placed the responsibility of enforcing certain immigration laws on employers, with a penalty of up to $10,000 in fines for non-compliance. On October 10, 2007, a Federal Court put a halt to the proposal, thus maintaining the initial intent of the "No Match" letter.

In spite of this, many companies have begun to create their own versions of "No Match," taking advantage of the current climate of fear prevalent in the immigrant community, to dismiss many workers and to cut salaries and benefits. In the majority of cases it is illegal for an employer to ask a worker to resubmit documentation, so it is important for workers to know their rights.

What to do if you receive a "No Match" letter

Bryan Payne states that workers throughout the country are organizing to defend their jobs against this threat. If you or anyone you know receives this type of letter, the Workers' Interfaith Network advises you to take the following actions:

If you receive a "No Match" letter from the Social Security Administration in your home mail box, you don't have to tell your employer about it; the purpose of the letter is to ensure that your benefits are credited to the correct file, and it has nothing to do with your job or with immigration.

If your company contacts you about a discrepancy, speak with your manager and ask how the discrepancy was found. The most common reasons include the following: the company received a letter from the Social Security Administration; the company received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); the company made an internal investigation of your I-9 forms; the company is involved in a pilot program with Immigration.

Additionally, if the company receives a letter from Social Security or the IRS, ask for a copy. The company is legally required to provide this for you. Talk to other workers to find out if they have received the same letter and to inform them of their rights. Payne recommends that you contact the Workers' Interfaith Network to organize with other workers to defend the right to work with dignity, respect, and a fair wage.

Brian Payne states that his organization has been informing the working community about their rights with regard to "No Match" letters, and it has been successful in saving dozens of jobs threatened by employers who tried to misuse "No Match" letters.

The impact of these efforts will be to work against the fight for the legalization of undocumented persons and the suffering that it causes. It is not necessarily the case, say community and labor activists, that a person cornered by a "No Match" letter will have to leave the country. The person usually looks instead for other work with lower wages and fewer benefits.

For this reason, attorney Cassondre Buteyn advises persons who receive this letter to prove to their employers that they can continue working with no problem (with verification of legal status, of course); otherwise, the employer can simply dismiss them out of hand.

Thousands of workers have lost their jobs this way. Although some bosses say they are unhappy to lose workers in this way, others become antagonistic and take advantage of the situation. There are cases in which a worker is fired because a "No Match" letter has arrived in his name, but his employer immediately offers him his job back, although paying him an even lower wage "under the table," without benefits and with the loss of his former rights on the job. In other cases, employers have been accused of using "No Match" letters as weapons against workers who participate in union activities, movements, or strikes.

In Minnesota, many persons have been fired from their jobs. Three of these have communicated the details of their dismissals to La Prensa, but they preferred to not have their stories published.

Cassondre Buteyn is an attorney from Wilson Law Group, 2700 E. Lake St., Ste. 3200, Minneapolis, MN 55406, Tel. 612-436-7100. Brian Payne is an associate of Workers' Interfaith Network, 2511 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis, MN, Tel. 612-332-0663.


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    Boy, does this article beat around the bush.

    If you are a U.S. citizen or a foreigner legally entitled to work in this country, it is in you interest to straighten the problem out ASAP so that you can get your Social Security benefits. It will be much harder if you wait 20 years until all the records are lost to try to straighten things out so you can retire. It will be easier for you and for Social Security if you can do it before the trail runs cold. If you are legal and it's a minor bookkeeping error it will be relatively easy. Even if it's a bit more serious, it would be very rare for a legal worker to have a really hard time. Once you've resolved the discrepancy your employer has no grounds to fire you. In fact, it's now in your interest for employers to fire other people who cannot resolve no match letters: That will open up more employment opportunities for workers with valid Social Security numbers. Even if you don't want to change jobs, it puts you in a strong position to ask for a raise. Of course, if you got a no match letter because you are, in fact, working illegally, you are legally obligated to leave the country. That's a much more serious, but common problem. You filled out your I-9 form asserting your legal right to work and used fraudulent documents. You are not "undocumented", you are "fraudulently documented". This whole article seems to meander around that point. You can leave the country or you can break the law again by moving and getting new false documents and waiting for the next batch of no match letters to catch up with you. You don't actually have a legal right to do that, but the article doesn't mention that. Some people pretend to be very indignant because usually the workers are deported when DHS raids a work place but the employers get off Scot free. Then of, course, the same people get very indignant when the employers try to follow-up on information indicating the worker may have used fraudulent documents to obtain employment. But actually, the employer usually can't be sure if the documents are frauds, but the worker always knows for sure. That's why the workers, not the employers are prosecuted.