H-1B process plagued by fraud, Grassley says

The nation's H-1B visa program for highly skilled workers is rampant with fraud and abuse, and corporate sponsors found guilty of wrongdoing should be punished, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said Thursday.

Grassley, a longtime critic of the H-1B program, released an audit performed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency. The audit found that 20 percent of the H-1B applications reviewed showed either fraud or technical violations.

Out of 246 H-1B petitions reviewed by the USCIS, 33 showed fraud and 18 showed serious technical violations, for a total of 51 violations. The USCIS had already approved 217 of the petitions.

"The H-1B benefit fraud and compliance assessment highlights the rampant fraud and abuse that is taking place in the program," Grassley, sponsor of H-1B reform legislation, wrote to Jonathan Scharfen, acting director of USCIS, on Oct. 9. He said the report should serve as a "wake-up call" that the program is not working as intended.

Grassley, in the letter, asked Scharfen to describe actions taken by the agency to reduce fraud and penalize violators. He also asked Scharfen what actions USCIS takes against companies that violate the program.

"Will the employers (and their employees) be held accountable or referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution?" Grassley asked. "Will the guilty employers be considered for debarment or suspension from being eligible for federal contracts, and will these employers be referred to the General Services Administration so that other agencies can be made aware of their misconduct? Will USCIS deny these employers further participation in the H-1B visa program?"

The H-1B visa program is used by the federal information technology contracting community to help fill IT positions with skilled foreign graduates. Executives from several IT companies, including Bill Gates of Microsoft, have lobbied Congress to raise the number of H-1B visas awarded each year, which currently stands at 65,000. Accenture Ltd., Cisco Systems Inc. and Google Inc. are also among top recipients.

At the same time, the H-1B visas are highly controversial among U.S.-based IT workers who believe the program lowers their wages and reduces job opportunities by encouraging more employment of foreign workers.

H-1B visas were created in 1990 as temporary work permits for skilled foreign workers. Many go to IT employees, but social workers and fashion models also receive them. Some of the recipients apply for permanent residency.

Grassley introduced an H-1B and L visa reform bill last year with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

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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