A report filed June 22 by the Government Accountability Office, a congressional oversight agency, confirmed what many critics of the H-1B visa program have long maintained: Thousands of U.S. guest workers are being paid less than the prevailing wages for their jobs.
The report cites a lack of oversight and deficient quality control by the Labor Department for the underpayment of 3,229 workers between January 2002 and December 2005.
"Little in the report is new. Earlier reports by the GAO, Inspectors General at the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security, and the White House Office of Management and Budget have repeatedly found similar problems over the past decade," said Ralph W. Wyndrum Jr., president of IEEE-USA, an organizational unit within the IEEE, which works to protect the career and policy interests of its members, in a statement.
While the number of underpaid visas approved was only a tiny percentage of the 960,000 applications electronically reviewed, they were in clear violation of Department of Labor stipulations that all applicants are paid the prevailing wages for their positions.
"Even a casual glance at these applications would have revealed problems, but those in charge lacked the authority to spot these problems. Implementation of the H-1B program fails every test of the principles its advocates have asserted. Employers can and do give preference to H-1Bs over U.S. workers. Employers who choose to do so can easily manipulate the system to pay below-market wages," said Wyndrum.
The GAO report found other inaccuracies in the H-1B applications they reviewed, including approximately 1,000 that contained erroneous employer identification numbers, raising questions about the validity of the application.
The report also pointed to difficulties the Labor, Homeland Security and Justice departments have in investigating violators of the programs requirements, such as the inability of Homeland Security to verify whether the employer in a Labor-certified application submitted petitions for more workers than originally requested because the database cannot match each petition to Labors case numbers.
In addition, Homeland Security lacks a formal process to report discrepancies to the Labor department, such as a worker who is quoted one income on the original application but files a different income on their W-2.
One-third of the applications reviewed by the GAO were for workers in computer systems analysis and programming occupations.