- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The country’s top guest-worker program for high-skilled foreigners is ripe for fraud, with companies deemed to have broken the terms of the visas in the past still approved for new permits anyway, the Homeland Security inspector general said Tuesday.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had 660,000 active H-1B permits as of earlier this year, but had only made site visits to a paltry 3 percent of the companies responsible for those permits, investigators said.

And even when investigators thought there was evidence of fraud, USCIS still approved the companies’ new H-1B petitions nearly half the time. When abuses are proved, it takes nearly a year to revoke the petitions and strip the company of the visas.

The audit found one instance where investigators made a site visit and found problems that should have gotten three companies’ petitions revoked. Instead, the agency “erroneously” sent the case files to storage, meaning no action was taken. It wasn’t until the inspector general spotted the problem that USCIS took action.

“USCIS needs a better approach,” the inspector general’s office concluded.

The agency couldn’t even say how many site visits were completed from 2014 to 2016 because it doesn’t properly track the data, the audit said.

The H-1B program is supposed to be for foreign workers with marketable skills.

Technology companies in particular have made use of the program, with nearly three-fourths of last year’s visas given to people from India, which has become a pipeline for low-cost tech workers to U.S. employers.

The American computer programming and tech industry is rife with stories of soon-to-be-jobless U.S. workers being required to train their foreign replacements.

The new audit said companies often win H-1B visas for employees and then contract the workers out to third-party firms. Sometimes the jobs for which the workers are approved don’t even exit.

“This allows beneficiaries to arrive in the country and not work in accordance with the H-1B agreements,” the investigators said.

Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have demanded stricter scrutiny of the visa program.

USCIS in its response to the inspector general’s finding said it’s working to improve on all counts, including doubling the number of site visits and sharing more information with the rest of the government. The agency has also created an email address to invite fraud tips.

Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the new audit was a devastating indictment of the H-1B program.

“First of all, the site visits clearly were able to detect fraud — missing employees, non-existent employers, misrepresentation on applications. But the agency rarely followed up to punish the employers that were abusing the program, or to find workers who may have been admitted on false pretenses and should be removed,” she said.

“This means the same companies could continue to abuse the program with impunity and without fear of consequences, with the result that they could bring in who knows how many workers in defiance of our laws,” Ms. Vaughan said.

She said it may be time for a pause in guest-worker programs to give the administration a chance to figure out a better way to administer them.

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