The fraud-ridden H-1B nonimmigrant work visa is under intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill.
The H-1B, along with several other nonimmigrant visas, is a commonly used legal method of bringing foreign-born workers to the United States — often under false pretenses — who then rarely return home.
Earlier this week, after a January Government Accountability Office report found loopholes in the visa’s safeguards for American workers and noted that the program has no tracking provisions for the participants, Sens. Dick Durbin. D-Ill., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, appealed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for a comprehensive review. Durbin and Grassley teamed up in 2007 when they co-authored the H-1B and L-1 Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act and plan to reintroduce similar legislation during the 112th Congress.
In a letter to Napolitano, Grassley, a longtime critic of the H-1B visa and the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined with Durbin, the Senate majority whip, and wrote that the GAO “verifies what we have argued for years — that loopholes in the program have resulted in adverse affects for Americans.”
Among the GAO’s recommendations to Congress are to strengthen the foreign-born workers’ qualifications and to study the relationship between the visa and eventual permanent residency. The GAO also found that the visa initiative is “vulnerable to fraud and abuse” and that fragmented oversight is one reason that American worker protections, such as the visa cap and the so-called temporary nature of the visas, are weakened.
During the H-1B’s 20-year history, documented incidents of outrageous “fraud and abuse” have been uncovered that include foreign nationals employed at laundromats or car lots or as domestic help. In many cases, visa holders never showed up at their designated destinations.
The GAO analysis is the latest in a string of reports that have uncovered rampant H-1B misapplication. In 2008, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services revealed that 13 percent of all H-1B petitions filed by employers are falsified and another 7 percent contain technical violations.
As the bill is written, the H-1B visa program allots 65,000 three-year visas per year for what’s misleadingly called highly skilled workers. More than half are used by high-tech companies. The fiscal 2011 visa cap that was reached last week will assuredly prompt calls from industry leaders such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates and echoed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to increase the limit.
Although the visa identifies the three-year term as “temporary,” applications to extend the period are commonly approved. Eventually, workers can change their immigration status to become legal permanent residents.
H-1B visas should be eliminated or, at least, reduced as part of a job-based immigration moratorium. Unemployment has been higher than 9 percent nationally for 20 consecutive months. In states such as California, where many H-1B visa holders work, the unemployment rate is higher than 12 percent.
Simply stated, the H-1B visa and other legal visas are detriments to American job seekers. About 650,000 H-1B visa holders are in the United States, presumably working. Dozens of other legal visas, such as the L-1, O-1 and K-1 visas, to name only a few, also have work permit provisions that allow foreign-born nationals to directly compete with Americans for scarce jobs.
If President Obama is serious about making jobs his No. 1 priority, he should call for an end — or at least the suspension of — work visas as part of a jobs-based immigration moratorium.