House GOP seeks $120M for visa fraud-catching software

Security issues could complicate employer use of H-1B and L-1 workers

capitol dome government
FEMA/Bill Koplitz

House Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation intended to bolster the scrutiny of people entering this country. Its impetus is last year's terrorist attack by a married couple who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. and wounded 22. But the bill's provisions will affect all visas, including the H-1B.

The legislation, submitted Thursday and led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte  (R-Va.), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, specifically requires analytics software "to ensure proactive detection of fraud" in the immigration process.

The software analysis requires the government "to utilize social media and other publicly available information" to determine whether an applicant is a security threat. One of the San Bernardino attackers, Tashfeen Malik, had allegedly posted allegiance to ISIL on Facebook, something which wasn't revealed until after the attack. She and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, were killed by police in a shootout.

House bill 5203, titled "The Visa Integrity and Security Act," doesn't single out any visa specifically for enforcement, but emphasizes the need to reduce fraud generally and increase security.

To pay for the new technology and enforcement provisions, the bill authorizes $60 million for each of the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years. The costs will be paid through surcharges on passports and visas. The specific prices of those surcharges was not detailed.

"Visa security is critical to national security and we must address gaping holes in our immigration system that allow those who wish Americans harm and fraudsters to game the system," Goodlatte said in a statement.

But the proposed law may complicate the use of temporary work visas for employers.

The bill, for instance, requires immigration officials to interview a visa holder every time there is a change of status in their visa, such as an H-1B renewal or change of jobs. Right now, interviews are required to enter the country but not after the visa holder is established here.

Enforcing this provision might require hiring hundreds more immigration workers, said William Stock, the president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and founding partner at Klasko, Rulon, Stock & Seltzer LLP.

The bill also raises the standard of proof, and may require more documents, affidavits and other forms of evidence to support the visa. "The potential is certainly there for the process to become much more expensive and much more burdensome for employers," said Stock.

The U.S. has brought a number of H-1B visa fraud cases, including one that involved a $20 million H-1B fraud scheme. In 2008, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) reported that a review of 246 randomly selected petitions filed in 2005 and 2006 revealed a fraud rate of just over 13%.

But Stock said the USCIS has been increasing its scrutiny of work petitions, particularly the L-1 visa, used in intracompany transfers.

Rejection rates have risen from about 6% to above 30% over the last 10 years.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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