H-1B Foreign WorkersBetter Controls Needed to Help Employers and Protect Workers Gao ID: HEHS-00-157 September 7, 2000
The H-1B visa program allows employers to hire skilled foreign workers for as long as six years to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs in the computer programming, engineering, education, and medical fields. In fiscal year 1999, these workers had a median age of 28 and were offered a median salary of $45,000; almost half were born in India. GAO found that the Department of Labor's limited legal authority to enforce program requirements--and weaknesses in the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) administration--leave the H-1B program vulnerable to abuse. For example, Labor can certify that an employer's application form for H-1B workers is error free, but it has no authority to verify the information on the form. Labor cannot take enforcement action even if it believes that employers are violating the law. INS is responsible for ensuring that H-1B that positions are specialty occupations and that workers granted entry are qualified for those jobs. INS staff are judged on the number of H-1B requests processed; they do not analyze a petitioner's merit. Labor and the National Science Foundation are trying to improve the information technology skills of the U.S. workforce through retraining programs for new and existing employees and through more computer training and mentoring for students in elementary and secondary schools.
GAO noted that: (1) employers have used the H-1B visa program to fill hundreds of thousands of positions in which certain skills, including computer programming, engineering, education, and medicine, were needed quickly; (2) according to Immigration and Naturalization (INS) data, about 60 percent of the positions that new workers were approved to fill in fiscal year (FY) 1999 were related to IT; (3) approved workers were scheduled to fill positions that offered initial annual salaries of median $45,000; (4) workers had a median age of 28 years, and almost half were born in India; (5) despite the H1-B program's success at helping employers bring in highly skilled foreign workers, DOL's limited legal authority to enforce the program's requirements and weaknesses in INS' program administration leave the program vulnerable to abuse; (6) delays and administrative problems have also lead to inefficient service for employers using the program; (7) under law, in certifying employers' initial requests for H-1B workers, DOL is limited to ensuring that the employer's application form has no obvious errors or omissions; (8) it does not have the authority to verify whether information provided by employers on labor conditions, such as wages to be paid, is correct; (9) DOL has limited authority to ensure that employers are actually complying with the law's requirements after the H-1B workers are employed in the United States; (10) DOL generally cannot initiateenforcement actions, even when it believes employers are violating the law; (11) however, DOL agreed with GAO's matter to broaden DOL's enforcement authority for the H-B program; (12) INS is responsible for ensuring that H-1B positions are in fact specialty occupations and that workers granted entry are qualified for those positions; (13) however, there is not sufficient assurance that INS reviews are adequate for detecting program noncompliance or abuse; (14) INS decisions about the priority of H-1B application processing related to other types of petitions handled by INS have resulted in delays of several months to process employers' requests for H-1B workers; (15) other system weaknesses at INS have contributed to errors in counting the number of visas approved under the H-1B visa program; and (16) to enhance U.S. workers' ability to fill IT positions, DOL and the National Science Foundation are working to improve the IT skills of the U.S. workforce.Recommendations
Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.Director: Team: Phone: