H-1B Visa Reform Takes Shape to Address Fraud, Procedural Nightmares

In the wake of a report claiming up to 20 percent of H-1B applicants may be fraudulent, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services will look more closely at H-1B visa applications.

The agency responsible for granting H-1B visa applications plans to tighten up its procedures for vetting and approving the applications in the wake of a report indicating as many as 20 percent of the applications may be fraudulent or technically flawed.

The U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is responsible for approving and administering H-1B applications, will increase the level of detail in which H-1B visa applications are examined and do what it can to eliminate the types of problems identified in the report, according to department spokesman Bill Wright.

The report is an audit of 246 applications that found 13 percent of the applicants used forged documentation, false businesses or addresses, false job offers, or misrepresented their immigration status. Another 7 percent had technical violations such as requiring the applicant to pay the application fee or list a salary substantively above what the applicant would actually be paid.

The report, H-1B Benefit Fraud & Compliance Assessment (PDF), was done at the request of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a longtime critic of U.S. immigration policy in general and the H-1B program in particular.

Neither Grassley nor other representatives involved in H-1B legislation responded to calls, but the staff of Lamar Smith, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, called the frequency of the fake degrees, fake businesses and forged documents "troubling."

"We cannot allow individuals to abuse H-1B visas in order to enter the country fraudulently and take jobs from American workers. The Administration must do more to protect the American worker and restore integrity to the H-1B visa program," the statement continued.

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Among the changes under consideration, according to Wright, are:

  • Increases in the number of visits investigators make to the sites of potential H-1B employers, to confirm that the companies exist, the nature of their business and the job descriptions of the H-1B applicants involved.

  • Modifying the evidence required to extend an H-1B visa, such as a W-2 form to confirm the salary being paid.

  • Changes to the I-129 forms used in the applications to make them less cumbersome to fill out and less prone to error.

  • A plan to use "open-source" data to verify the identity of petitioners. Open-source, Wright said, is any form of data that is open to the public, though he couldn't say whether that meant information available through Internet searches, commercial databases or other methods.

The USCIS is also working with the Department of Labor on changes to the Immigration and Naturalization Act that would allow a broader use of the $500 every applicant pays into an anti-fraud fund that is supposed to pay for the policing of the system.

H-1B applications are a very complex process, and the forms involved are far from clear, according to Bob Deasy, director of liaison and information for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, whose members often represent employers of H-1B workers.

"There are things that are counterintuitive," he said. "An employer may not be aware of the steps that have to be taken in order to lawfully comply under the steps of the H-1B program. The approach we take looking at the report is that it highlights the need for more clarity with immigration service forms and instructions from the USCIS."