Senator describes black market in H-1B visas

Charles Grassley releases letter to DHS outlining program abuses

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said yesterday that the White House isn't enforcing the H-1B program, and he cited a number of abuses to it in a letter released late Monday.

Among the practices Grassley pointed to in his letter is the "leasing" of H-1B workers by contractors that don't have work for their foreign hires, as well as a number of court cases that point to a market for buying and selling fraudulently obtained visas.

These practices, which in sum describe an underground economy in visas, were outlined in a strongly worded letter Monday to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking him to detail what that department is doing to enforce the program.

Grassley said the Bush Administration isn't enforcing the program.

"Everyday we're learning more and more, but it appears that most H-1B visas are going to foreign-based companies," said Grassley, in a statement. "U.S. businesses that need highly skilled workers are getting the short end of the stick."

In regard to the leasing of H-1B workers, Grassley, in his letter to Chertoff, charged that "hundreds" of foreign workers are "standing by, waiting for work" and are being offered for lease by their employers. The information about this practice came from a constituent in Iowa, not identified in the letter, who was being "bombarded" by these requests to lease H-1B workers, wrote Grassley.

"My constituent even said one company went so far to require him to sign a memorandum of understanding that helps the H-1B "factory firm" justify to the federal government that they have adequate business opportunity that requires additional visa holders," wrote Grassley. "It's a complete falsification of the market justification for additional H-1B workers."

Grassley's letter arrives in advance of Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates' testimony Wednesday before a U.S. House Committee. Gates is expected to argue for making it easier to hire skilled workers. All sides on this issue have been turning up the volume in advance of April 1, the first day the U.S. will begin receiving H-1B visa petitions for the 2009 federal fiscal year.

Grassley also cites court cases over the last three years that describe efforts to fraudulently obtain H-1B visas, including a "major fraud case" where an indictment alleges that a group of people fabricated petitions and then sold a variety of visas "to hundreds of foreign aliens."

That case, filed against 12 people in U.S. District Court in Atlanta in September, alleges that visa petitions were submitted on behalf of "bogus shell companies" for alien workers without an employment offer.

The H-1B visa program holders "were intended to fill jobs for a temporary amount of time while the country invested in American workers to pick up the skills needed," said Grassley.

Grassley has been seeking reforms to the program. He asked for Chertoff's support on the reforms.

The H-1B program "may be beneficial to some U.S. businesses, but it's even better for companies based outside the United States," wrote Grassley. "The fact is most H-1B visas are going to foreign-based companies. U.S. businesses that need highly skilled workers are getting the short end of the stick. Americans are seeing ruthless tactics by some companies to bring in foreign workers, pay them less, and increase their bottom line."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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