US likely to tighten H-1B visa program

Report reveals widespread abuse of H-1B visa scheme, increased restrictions proposed

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By  Mark Sutton Published  October 13, 2008

The US H-1B visa program is likely to face increased restrictions, following a report that suggested widespread abuse of the temporary US work visa scheme.

The internal report by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) found that as many as one in five H-1B visas are affected by fraud of technical violations.

Many technology companies rely on the H-1B visa scheme, which allows companies to employ foreign nationals on a temporary basis, to fill roles that require specialized or technical skills. The US awards 65,000 H-1B visas each year, with a further 20,000 visas reserved for foreign workers with US graduate level qualifications. The visas are predominantly taken by computing and engineering personnel.

Industry executives including Bill Gates have lobbied the government to increase the number of visas awarded, although the program has been criticized for giving jobs to foreign workers rather than to US citizens.

The USCIS report, released on Wednesday, found violations in 21% of 246 H-1B visa that were reviewed at random. Workers were frequently underpaid, or not paid when there was no work, and were also found to be working in other jobs than those they were hired for, including one worker who was employed in a launderette.

US Senator Chuck Grassley is sponsoring a bill to reform the H-1B scheme, which would to pledge that they had made a good-faith effort to hire American workers first and that the H-1B visa holder will not displace an American worker. The reforms would also prevent the prevent outsourcing of H-1B workers through employment agencies, and would increase scrutiny of applicants.

“This is about protecting the American worker. We're closing loopholes that employers have exploited by requiring them to be more transparent about their hiring and we're ensuring more oversight of these visa programs to reduce fraud and abuse. A little sunshine will go a long way to help the American worker,” said Grassley.

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