The Justice Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) warned employers petitioning for H-1B visas not to discriminate against U.S. workers. The agencies issued memos Monday just as the federal government began accepting employers’ H-1B visa petitions for the next fiscal year.
USCIS announced multiple measures to crack down on H-1B visa fraud and abuse, including more site visits to H-1B petitioners and the worksites of H-1B employees, especially to H-1B-dependent employers. "These site visits are not meant to target nonimmigrant employees for any kind of criminal or administrative action but rather to identify employers who are abusing the system," according to the memo. The agency also established an email address to allow individuals to submit tips about potential H-1B fraud or abuse.
USCIS is also clarifying what qualifies as an eligible specialty worker under the program. In memo Friday, USCIS reminded businesses that just because a foreign worker is a computer programmer is "not sufficient to establish the position as a specialty occupation," particularly if they have only an associates degree or are going into an entry level position. Some computer programmers may have to provide additional info to prove they are a specialty worker. The memo states that employers must make a “good faith effort” to recruit U.S. workers.
Both the Justice Department and USCIS are trying to ensure employers make a "good faith effort" to recruit U.S. workers, relying on the program only for specialty occupations rather than general staffing needs.
H-1B visas are reserved for foreign workers who have skills that are either not available or hard to find among U.S. workers. But many say the program is used instead to bring in cheap foreign tech labor, often to the detriment of U.S. tech workers. For example, Southern California Edison workers complained last summer that more than 500 of them were laid off so the company could bring in cheaper H-1B workers from other countries. Former Disney workers say the same thing happened to them when 250 employees were laid off in late 2014 and replaced by workers from an outsourcing company in India.
The Trump administration has promised to reform the program and make more efforts to ensure Americans don’t lose their jobs to foreign workers. Trump previously said he’d address the H-1B program within his first 100 days in office, though warnings and additional program enforcement procedures did not appear until Monday when the FY18 H-1B petition period began.
Last year, the H-1B cap was filled with petitions within the first five business days. The program is set to be just as in demand as last year, with employers vying for visas to bring in top talent.