It's bad enough that American workers are losing jobs to foreign labor imported via the broken H-1B visa system. Now there's even more evidence that unscrupulous companies are exploiting the hopes and labor of foreign workers who obtained those visas as they searched for better jobs and better lives.
Two of those workers, an MBA student named Vimal Patel and an Indian software programmer Prasad Nair, were featured in an investigative story on the H-1B mess in the current issue of BusinessWeek. Their stories have a lot of complications, and Patel -- who wound up working at a gas station -- apparently committed a relatively minor violation of the law. But those young men and many others paid thousands of dollars to companies that promised them jobs that ultimately didn't materialize or turned out to be for significantly less money than they had been led to expect.
[ InfoWorld's Bill Snyder argues why the H-1B visa has got to go. ]
Aside from humanitarian concerns, is there a reason why you should care about these guys? There is. With layoffs continuing to decimate the technology industry -- about 100,000 IT workers lost their jobs in the last 12 months -- employers can still bring in as many as 85,000 H-1B workers, including 20,000 who hold advanced degrees from U.S. universities. And now some of the outsourcers are preparing to move jobs to Mexico if visa regulations get tighter. The system works against U.S. workers, and it leaves plenty of room to exploit foreign workers. It's broken and needs to be fixed.
Visa fraud rate of 20 percent
The cases of Patel and Nair mirror a pattern of lawbreaking and exploitation by employers uncovered last year by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Indeed, the agency found evidence of fraud or other violations in 20 percent of H-1B visa petitions.
The Justice Department took notice and brought suit against a number of companies, including Vision Systems Group, Cognizant Technology, and Patni Computer Systems.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has been one of Washington's most outspoken critics of the H-1B visa. In a letter last week to USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas, Grassley said the agency should be asking "companies up front for evidence that H-1B visa holders actually have a job awaiting them in the U.S.," so they will not end up being "benched," or unpaid until work is found.
"Employers need to be held accountable so that foreign workers are not flooding the market, depressing wages, and taking jobs from qualified Americans. Asking the right questions and requesting the necessary documents will go a long way in getting out the fraud in the H-1B program," Grassley wrote.