Starting now, staffing firms using H-1B visas will come under additional inspection in a program to fight visa fraud, according to an announcement on Monday by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Monday was the start of filing season for H-1B visas — used by highly skilled temporary foreign workers such as IT specialists and medical workers.
The USCIS said in a memo it would take a more targeted approach when doing site visits on three types of firms:
- Companies with a high ratio of H-1B workers,
- those where the USCIS cannot validate basic business information, and
- “employers petitioning for H-1B workers who work off-site at another company or organization’s location.”
It’s the last category that’s seen as referring to staffing firms.
“Targeted visits will allow USCIS to focus resources where fraud and abuse of the H-1B program may be more likely to occur, and determine whether H-1B dependent employers are evading their obligation to make a good faith effort to recruit US workers,” according to the USCIS.
But concerns have arisen over the fairness of targeting certain business models.
“We just think that singling out a business model where individuals are employed at third party sites is wrong and a misallocation of resources,” TechServe Alliance CEO Mark Roberts said. “We are not at all looking to defend those who are violating the rules. … What we take issue with is just this focus on the staffing model.”
It’s too early to tell how this will affect staffing firms that use H-1Bs; it will depend on how aggressive the USCIS is in its site visits, Roberts said. The extra scrutiny will still likely require increased effort by firms to respond. And the focus will include all firms regardless of the number of H-1B visa holders they have.
Separately on Monday, the US Justice Department also issued a warning to all employers petitioning for H-1B visas to not discriminate against US workers.
“The Justice Department will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against US workers,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “US workers should not be placed in a disfavored status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims.”
The USCIS announcement follows a separate announcement last month that it was suspending premium processing of some H-1B visas.
Meanwhile, Axios reported Monday on new guidance released over the weekend that appears to make it tougher for computer programmers to get H-1B visas. And in a CNBC article, one executive warned that without the right workers — including those on H-1B visas — work may have to move out of the US. In addition, an Obama-era rule that allowed spouses of H-1B visa holders find jobs is facing a lawsuit, The Guardian reported.
For now, the H-1B filing season for the next federal fiscal year continues. The government has received more petitions for H-1B visas than have been available under the annual cap of 85,000 each year since 2013. Experts believe there will still be more demand for visas than are available under the cap. However, demand may be reduced from previous years given the focus on H-1B visa use.