Updated Apr. 4, 2017 at 7:14 a.m.

'Putting American Workers First:' Trump cracks down on H-1B visas

Published: 2017-04-03 16:02:00
Updated: 2017-04-04 07:14:29


The Trump Administration is cracking down on the H-1B visa program, best known for use by high-tech firms to recruit foreign workers to fill highly skilled positions.

The Customs and Immigration department set up a site for workers to report abuse, and the Justice Department issued a warning against companies abusing the program.

"The H-1B visa program should help U.S. companies recruit highly-skilled foreign nationals when there is a shortage of qualified workers in the country. Yet, too many American workers who are as qualified, willing, and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged. Protecting American workers by combating fraud in our employment-based immigration programs is a priority for USCIS," the agency said in an announcement.

Proponents such as many Silicon Valley and RTP tech firms say H-1B visas are necessary to fill jobs.

Opponents such as some labor organizations say companies abuse the visas to lay off Americans and hire foreigners at cheaper wages.

The Obama administration sued companies for violating the Immigration and Nationality Act's anti-discrimination provisions, including businesses that favored foreigners over U.S. workers. But Monday's warning in a news release at the start of the visa process appeared to be a first-of-its kind signal to employers not to put American workers at a disadvantage.

The announcements came as the government prepares for the annual H-1B application period.

No surprise

“The Justice Department will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against U.S. workers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. “U.S. workers should not be placed in a disfavored status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims.”

While enforcement of visa abuses is not new, the aggressive position on the H-1B program is a different approach. White House spokesman Sean Spicer also addressed the issue at the beginning of his daily press briefing, saying the administration will crack down on businesses that discriminate against U.S. workers by using the visa program to hire foreigners.

Yet, the crackdown comes as no surprise. President Donald Trump promised as a candidate for office to "end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program." A draft proposal circulated in January promised to review existing regulations, find ways to allocate visas more efficiently and ensure that beneficiaries are "the best and the brightest."

Trump has yet to issue that order; the enforcement effort announced Monday could be an interim measure while a broader overhaul is worked out.

In a statement headlined "Putting American Workers First: USCIS Announces Further Measures to Detect H-1B Visa Fraud and Abuse," the USCIS said it "will take a more targeted approach when making site visits across the country to H-1B petitioners and the worksites of H-1B employees."

Points of emphasis include:

  • "Cases where USCIS cannot validate the employer’s basic business information through commercially available data
  • "H-1B-dependent employers (those who have a high ratio of H-1B workers as compared to U.S. workers, as defined by statute)
  • "Employers petitioning for H-1B workers who work off-site at another company or organization’s location."

The USCIS also set up an email address for posting of H-1B visa complaints:

[ReportH1BAbuse@uscis.dhs.gov]

Mixed reaction

Critics called the announcement and increased enforcement a step toward reform.

"While the laws/regs are chock full of major loopholes, the U.S. government hasn't vigorously enforced them," longtime critic Ron Hira, a Howard University professor, said in an email. "I suspect that many H-1B dependent firms are not complying with good faith recruiting promises. DHS investigations would help shed light on this."

The crackdown didn't surprise the Computing Technology Industry Association, a trade group that represents Apple, Google, Microsoft and other major companies. Critics say that many of the available H-1B spots go to lower-paid foreign workers employed by consulting firms that let U.S. companies contract out their tech departments.

"If it helps preserve the program and frees up more spots for truly exceptional people to continue innovation in this country, then it's a good thing," said Todd Thibodeaux, the association's CEO. "And if it squeezes out people out at the bottom, then so be it."

More details online

  • Read the full USCIS announcement at:

https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/putting-american-workers-first-uscis-announces-further-measures-detect-h-1b-visa-fraud-and-abuse

  • Read the Justice Department warning at:

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-cautions-employers-seeking-h-1b-visas-not-discriminate-against-us-workers

​The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Hopefully the new administration will make a difference. There are many companies in the Triangle who are "Indian" heavy. And I'm not talking Native American.
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