GAO finds that H-1B visa program undercuts US workers

IEEE-USA encourages congress to fix 'flawed' H-1B program

WASHINGTON (22 June 2006) -- IEEE-USA encourages Congress to fix the badly flawed H-1B program, which undercuts U.S. workers and enables the exploitation of foreign guest-workers. The findings, conclusions and recommendations contained in the new General Accountability Office (GAO) report, entitled "H-1B Visa Program: Labor Could Improve its Oversight and Increase Information Sharing With Homeland Security," reinforce a decade worth of government studies on the H-1B program.

The report concludes that the government, specifically the Departments of Labor, Homeland Security and Justice, lack the authority, resources and will to police the H-1B program. To support this claim, the GAO found thousands of examples of H-1B applications that were approved despite obvious violations of the law contained in the clear language of the applications themselves.

In a statement released today, IEEE-USA President Dr. Ralph W. Wyndrum, Jr. said: "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. And the program accelerates the offshoring of high-skilled jobs by training people who then become our overseas competition. Bringing in the best and brightest and keeping them here should be the goal of the program, but the H-1B program now does not serve that purpose."

According to IEEE-USA, the GAO affirms what independent observers and the government already know: the H-1B program has little oversight, and statutory changes are necessary to ensure it serves the national interest. The program can be fixed, but only by Congress. The GAO shows that the key enforcement mechanism to prevent adverse effects on U.S. and foreign workers, the Labor Condition Application process, doesn't work. The GAO report also provides specific recommendations that should be implemented immediately, but the report does not go far enough to fix the H-1B program so that it functions as Congress intended.

Key GAO findings include:

  • "Labor's oversight of the H-1B program is limited, even within the scope of its existing authority. Labor's review of employers' H-1B applications is limited by law to identifying omissions and obvious inaccuracies, but we found that it does not consistently identify all obvious inaccuracies."
  • "Labor's system does not consistently identify all obvious inaccuracies. For example, although the overall percentage was small, we found 3,229 applications that were certified even though the wage rate on the application was lower that the prevailing wage for that occupation in the specific location."
  • The IEEE-USA would emphasize that the GAO report looked for wage rates that were lower than the prevailing wages found on the H-1B application. No attempt was made to establish than the prevailing wages listed were correct. Other studies have found that, on average, prevailing wages on H-1B applications are between $13,000 and $24,000 below market rates. The GAO did not investigate this problem.
  • "Additionally, Labor does not identify other errors that may be obvious. We found 993 certified applications with invalid employer identification number prefixes. In other programs, Labor matches the application's employer application number with valid employer identification numbers. However, they do not formally do this match with H-1B applications because its is an attestation process, not a verification process."

The GAO also found many procedural and legal obstacles that prevent agencies from properly policing the program and from sharing information between them on violations. The report will be posted at http://www.gao.gov.

IEEE-USA President Wyndrum concluded: "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."

IEEE-USA urges Congress to heed the warnings contained in the new GAO report and act to correct the numerous flaws and deficiencies in the H-1B program before taking steps to expand a program that allows exploitation of foreign workers, disadvantages U.S. workers, and facilitates the transfer of American jobs and technologies overseas.

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IEEE-USA advances the public good and promotes the careers and public-policy interests of more than 220,000 engineers, scientists and allied professionals who are U.S. members of the IEEE. IEEE-USA is part of the IEEE, the world's largest technical professional society with 360,000 members in 150 countries. For more information on IEEE-USA, go to http://www.ieeeusa.org.


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