DHS' IG finds glitch in 'computer visa' program

The nation's L-1 "computer visa" program for temporary IT workers from foreign countries is vulnerable to fraud and potential abuse, according to a new report from Homeland Security Department inspector general Richard Skinner.

The program is vulnerable to abuse because the concept of specialized knowledge "is so broadly defined that adjudicators believe they have little choice but to approve almost all petitions," the report said. Furthermore, managerial status is difficult to verify and foreign companies may be illegitimate, presenting opportunities for fraud and abuse, the report added.

The L-1 visa is not specifically designated for IT workers, but has come to be known as the "computer visa" because most applicants filing for the credential end up filling positions related to computers and information technology.

Foreign workers can qualify for the L-1 visas either as managers or as workers with specialized knowledge. Nearly one-half (48 percent) of the L-1 petitions in 2005 in the category of specialized knowledge were from India, another 15 percent came from Canada, 5 percent from the United Kingdom and 4 percent from Japan.

From 1999 to 2004, nine of the top 10 firms requesting L-1 visas for their workers were IT firms, including Cognizant Technology Solutions, Wipro Technologies, Hewlett Packard, I-Flex Solutions, IBM Global Services, Information Systems Technology; Syntel Inc. and Satyam Computer Services, according to the report.

Congress should clarify the laws permitting L-1 visas to establish the definitions and make it possible to verify the legitimacy of the foreign companies that apply, the report recommended.

Responding to the recommendations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials said that under law any proposed legislative changes to the L-1 visa program need to be evaluated by a task force of Homeland Security, Justice and State department officials.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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