The United States Customs and Immigrations Services plans to up its enforcement of the law on H-1B visas and the U.S. companies that take advantage of them by conducting 25,000 on-site inspections in 2010. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Google and many technology giants and smaller IT shops employ temporary H-1B visa holders to fill U.S.-based jobs from foreign countries. After a Congressional report showed a range of fraud within the H-1B visa program, the pressure to enforce the law on the books has increased.
In 2009, the USCIS conducted 5,191 on-site inspections, according to a report in Computerworld, with many of the inspections being unannounced visits. The 25,000 inspection effort in 2010 could be a serious boost to quelling fraud, but it may not be enough for those in the U.S. government who advocate for stronger limits on H-1B visas.
Some in the U.S. Senate, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa, have introduced legislation that would impose limitations on H-1B visa usage. In a year of major job loss in information technology, Grassley, along with Sen. Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois initiated a bill that seeks to insure that U.S. companies look to hire American workers before using H-1B visas.
"The H-1B program was never meant to replace qualified American workers. It was meant to complement them because of a shortage of workers in specialized fields," Grassley said in a statement. "In tough economic times like we're seeing, it's even more important that we do everything possible to see that Americans are given every consideration when applying for jobs."
The boost to enforcement became public knowledge after recently appointed USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas sent letters to Sen. Grassley and Sen. Durbin. Computerworld reported how the inspections are expected to happen:
"Mayorkas, a former federal prosecutor... told Grassley that the inspections aim to determine 'whether the location of employment actually exists and if a beneficiary is employed at the location specified, performing the duties as described, and paid the salary as identified in the petition.'"
Senator Bernie Sanders (I) from Vermont also introduced a bill this year that would limit visa usage, significantly increase the fees for H-1B visa company sponsors and protect U.S. workers.
Technology companies--with lobbying support from organizations like TechAmerica and CompTIA--widely support the use of H-1B visas and consistently express a skills gap between U.S. and foreign-born workers and support an increase in the annual number of visa allotments--which is now capped at 64,000.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told the Detroit Free Press earlier this year: "I don't care whether they're American-born or Indian-born or Russian-born. I want to pay them to work in the U.S. That's why I'm trying to get 'em a visa.... I'm not trying to ship the job to India."