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H-1B Foreign Workers: Better Controls Needed to Help Employers and Protect Workers

HEHS-00-157 Published: Sep 07, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 07, 2000.
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the H-1B program's implementation and implications for the American workforce, focusing on: (1) the jobs that H-1B workers are filling in the United States and the characteristics of those workers; (2) the adequacy of the H-1B visa program's implementation and enforcement; and (3) efforts underway to improve information technology (IT) skills in the American workforce.

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Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
Given the limited nature of DOL's review of labor condition applications (LCA) consider streamlining the H-1B approval process by eliminating the separate requirement that employers first submits an LCA to DOL for certification. Instead, Congress could require employers to submit an LCA and the I-129 petition simultaneously to INS, which will continue to review and evaluate the information contained on both the LCA and the petition.
Closed – Not Implemented
In its comments on the report, Labor's Wage and Hour Division did not favor this action. Moreover, since this report was issued, tremendous changes have occurred that necessitated a significant reorganization of INS. Given these changes and the current political climate, it does not appear that Congress will take any action on this matter in the near future.
If Congress wished to broaden DOL's enforcement authority and improve its ability to enforce relevant provisions in the H-1B law, it could consider, at a minimum, giving DOL's Wage and Hour Division subpoena power to obtain employers' records during investigations under the H-1B program. It could also consider allowing DOL to perform baseline evaluations to determine the extent of employers' compliance with H-1B requirements and conduct subsequent targeted efforts to address suspected noncompliance or abuse.
Closed – Implemented
Labor stated that it has long urged Congress to reconsider and expand the narrow limits of its enforcement authority. The 108th Congress considered these issues and introduced a bill in both houses (S. 1452 and H.R. 2849) that allows the Secretary of Labor to initiate an investigation of any employer that hires H-1B visa workers if the Secretary has reasonable cause to believe that the employer is not in compliance with H-1B requirements. Senator Dodd, who introduced the bill in the Senate, testified that the bill "will finally provide the Labor Department with authority it currently lacks to investigate potential violators of the law and to impose sanctions." Both bills have been referred to committee.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services To improve INS' ability to prevent H-1B visa abuse and better serve customers, the Attorney General should direct the Commissioner of INS to expand upon INS' current efforts to standardize H-1B adjudication procedures by: (1) providing practical guidance to help adjudicators assess the adequacy or sufficiency of documentation and determine when and how to request additional documentation from employers; and (2) having adjudicators document adherence to standard procedures when reviewing petitions.
Closed – Implemented
In November 2001, INS began updating the national H-1B standard operating procedures, which included processing H-1B visa applications. In April 2004, the Department of Homeland Security finalized these procedures. They include substantial step-by-step descriptions of decisions that adjudicators must make and the criteria they must use to make those decisions. For example, it describes the requirements related to foreign workers having licenses to practice certain occupations and what evidence is required. The step-by-step nature of the procedures can provide greater assurance that adjudicators are adhering to standard procedures when reviewing petitions.
Management Directorate To improve INS' ability to prevent H-1B visa abuse and better serve customers, the Attorney General should direct the Commissioner of INS to provide easy access to case-specific information for adjudicators when reviewing petitions as a part of the current upgrade of its computer system.
Closed – Implemented
In its comments on the report as well as its response to the Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, INS acknowledged the need to upgrade its case tracking system. INS stated that an upgrade then underway would improve adjudicator access to system data on H-1B specific employers and employees. Under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), which now has responsibility for processing H-1B petitions, multiple systems captured and managed individuals' identity and background check results, enabled individuals to file for applications, allowed CIS to create and maintain application records, and provided notification of application or benefit status. In some cases, these systems did not share information. Accordingly, CIS defined its business requirements and completed the project plan to develop the new case management system. This upgraded customer-based case processing system provides a single view of an individual and their interactions with CIS so that adjudicators can determine the status of previous applications from an employer. Service-wide implementation is expected by fiscal year 2006.
Management Directorate To improve INS' ability to prevent H-1B visa abuse and better serve customers, the Attorney General should direct the Commissioner of INS to enhance existing supervisory review and performance appraisal systems so that adjudicators are held accountable for the correct assessment of petitions as well as for the quantity of reviews they complete.
Closed – Implemented
The Directorate of Management in the Department of Homeland Securities, which now has responsibility for these activities, implemented a quality assurance program at all service centers. In addition, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services will incorporate the processing of H-1B visa applications in its quality assurance workload, which can significantly enhance the quality of adjudicators' petition decisions.

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