U.S. Paper Chase May Slow H-1B, Green Card Use

One agency says the federal TARP law demands that applicants submit more data.

Federal regulators, particularly the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau, may be slowing the process of obtaining H-1B visas and green cards by adding to the mounds of paperwork required by applicants, according to immigration attorneys.

Several attorneys said in interviews that various regulatory agencies have increased the scope of their so-called requests for evidence from those who apply for new H-1B visas or permanent residency cards, or try to renew existing ones.

In recent months, the USCIS has compelled some applicants to provide corporate payroll records, zoning maps and even building fire-safety plans, they added.

The new requests are "on the border of harassment," said Crystal Williams, co-director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington. The USCIS is "attempting to build a barrier, to make it as difficult as it possibly can be to get a visa," she added.

The lawyers group is now gathering evidence to make a case that the USCIS and other government regulatory agencies are overstepping their authority.

Sam Shihab, an immigration attorney at law firm Shihab & Associates Co. in Washington, said requests by regulators like the USCIS for additional documents are "out of control." H-1B employers are now "guilty until proven innocent," he added.

Shihab claimed that IT firms that mainly hire Indian nationals, in particular, are being targeted by the government.

He said he recently photographed a four-inch-high stack of supporting documents required by regulators. Shihab posted details about some of the documents regulators require on his firm's blog.

Suhi Koizumi, a special counsel at Buchalter Nemer LLP in San Francisco, said she has encountered increased, burdensome government demands for what she called irrelevant documents from companies looking to hire workers who hold permanent residency cards, or green cards.

U.S. regulators "are going to request résumés that the companies have received, to make sure that they have considered all minimally qualified workers," Koizumi said. "Jobs are hard to find, and the government wants to encourage companies to hire U.S. workers."

A Legal Imperative

The USCIS has acknowledged that it has increased its scrutiny of applications for H-1B visas and green cards. But the agency contends that the actions are required as part of the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which set new H-1B restrictions on firms that received bailout funds.

The agency noted that in March, it moved to cut back on the number of documents sought from companies.

In an e-mail to Computerworld, a USCIS spokesman said that the agency is "requesting end-user documentation in those situations where the beneficiary is not working on-site for the petitioner. This will help us ensure that a job offer does indeed exist, and that the worksite is covered by the 'labor condition application' in the file and that a position is a specialty occupation."

There are a number of reasons why the U.S. would step up enforcement of the H-1B and green card programs.

A study released last fall by the USCIS found various problems, including fraud, in nearly one in five H-1B applications. And in February, 11 people in six states were arrested on H-1B fraud charges alleging that companies were displacing qualified American workers.

It's hard to tell whether the increased paperwork is discouraging foreign workers from applying for H-1Bs, though the pace of new applicants has fallen as U.S. unemployment numbers have grown.

Approximately 65,000 H-1B visa applications have been received so far for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. A total of 85,000 H-1B visas are available for the year.

The Obama administration has yet to formally spell out its plan for H-1B visas and employment-based green cards, though observers expect it to support expanding their use.

Obama's choice to head the USCIS, Alejandro Mayorkas, is still awaiting Senate confirmation.

This version of this story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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