WASHINGTON -- One of the U.S. Senate's leading critics of the H-1B visa program, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), is asking immigration officials to toughen their demands for evidence from companies hiring visa workers.
Grassley wants IT consulting companies that hire H-1B workers at third party client sites to prove that there is work waiting for them. The timing of his request to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS) is no accident or is Grassley's interest.
About a year ago, Grassley released a USCIS study that found either evidence of fraud or other violations in one-out-five H-1B visa petitions.
His letter to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, released Tuesday, also comes just prior to the start of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1 and the release of 66,700 H-1B visa petitions, a number well short of the cap, applied for since April 1, the start of the annual petition process.
In a statement accompanying the release of his letter to Mayorkas, Grassley said that "Employers need to be held accountable so that foreign workers are not flooding the market, depressing wages, and taking jobs from qualified Americans. Asking the right questions and requesting the necessary documents will go a long way in getting out the fraud in the H-1B program."
Five months after USCIS completed its fraud study, federal officials arrested and charged about a dozen people with fraud. One of the cases involved a New Jersey company, Visions System Group Inc. alleged to have set up shell offices in Grassley's home state. The U.S. recently expanded the case; the company is fighting the charges in federal court.
Grassley said in his letter that the USCIS should be asking "companies up front for evidence that H-1B visa holders actually have a job awaiting them in the U.S.," so they will not end up being "benched," or unpaid until work is found.
Grassley is also seeking information on the progress the USCIS has made on a number of other issues addressed in the fraud report, including job duties that differ from those described in the petition and failure to pay prevailing wages.
In response, a USCIS official said Mayorkas has received the letter and will respond to it.
Grassley's call for tougher steps comes at the same time that some immigration attorneys have complained of stepped up enforcement efforts this year, especially with request for more evidence to support a petition.
Grassley and U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill) have introduced legislation that would toughen the rules on H-1B program, and impose a number of restrictions, especially on Indian firms and their ability to use large numbers of visa holders without hiring a proportional number of U.S. workers.
The U.S. can issue up to 85,000 H-1B petitions under the cap, with 20,000 set aside for advance degree graduates of U.S. universities. IT employment is down generally, and with it, demands for the visa.