H-1B workers abuse work privileges: IG

About 18 percent of the skilled foreign workers allowed employment in the United States under H-1B visa programs may have committed fraud or abused the program, according to a new report from the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General.

Congress created the H-1B program in 1990 to allow highly skilled foreign workers to work within the U.S. for several years, primarily in high-tech fields. While U.S. tech companies say the foreign workers are critical to remaining competitive, American workers contend that the influx of additional workers undercuts their wages.

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The H-1B program, which is run by the Homeland Security Department, allows work for tens of thousands of visa holders per year. The SSA provides Social Security numbers to the workers to be reported as wages in approved workplaces.

However, many H-1B workers did not fulfill those conditions. The SSA IG found that 18 percent of the H-1B workers who were assigned Social Security numbers for work in 2007 did not fulfill the assigned purpose, according to the report released Sept. 7. The review said that finding applied to 7,131 H-1B recipients of a total of 38.546 H-1B recipients evaluated.

Of the total cases reviewed, 11 percent worked for an employer other than the one approved by DHS, while 7 percent posted no wages during the two-year period studied, the report states.

For the 18 percent of the H-1B visa recipients who did not follow the rules, the report said it resulted in unauthorized use of the H-1B visa program.

“Unauthorized work by H-1B workers weakens SSN integrity and may require that the agency pay future benefits to individuals who misuse an SSN to work in the United States. In addition, H-1B workers who do not work for their approved employers could pose a risk to homeland security because they may obtain employment in sensitive areas,” the report states.

Applying the percentages to the entire H-1B visa holder cohort, the report concludes that thousands of H-1B visa holders may be engaging in unauthorized work each year.

“While we recognize SSA is not responsible for immigration enforcement, unauthorized work by non-immigrants impacts the agency by weakening SSN integrity,” Patrick O’Carroll Jr., SSA inspector general, wrote in the report. “We recognize there is no easy way to fix this problem. However, we believe SSA has an opportunity to help address unauthorized work by non-immigrants.”

O’Carroll recommended that the SSA work with DHS to offer to establish a data match agreement to better identify the H-1B visa holders who do use their Social Security numbers for purposes other than approved work.

SSA managers agreed with the recommendations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Sun, Oct 9, 2011

"More than 52% of Silicon Valley startups were founded or co-founded by immigrants, and immigrant-founded companies produced $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers in 2005," Lofgren said in a statement. "Immigration has historically made our economy stronger. My bill embraces that history and encourages the world's thinkers and doers to join us." source: computerworld.com

Sun, Oct 9, 2011 anon

What people do not realise is that the h-1b is used for highly skilled people with a minimum of an undergraduate or graduate (master's, phd) degree in a stem (science and technology area). these people are highly skilled and promote growth for the country. There are no enough local graduates with such degrees to fill the high tech jobs. Each h-1b worker pays a large amount in social security payments each year to the government. None of these payments are of benefit to the foreigner as they are not eligible to claim it. Hence it used directly for the american people which is a contribution to the country that lets the h-1b worker work in their area of interest. Additionally each h-1b worker who earns promotes growth by consuming in the form or consuming services such as health, recreational services and day-to-day consumption. For example I had to get my tires changed. The mechanic benefits from my necessity. I eat out at restaurants, the staff benefit, business grows. All I'm saying is that perhaps people should view the whole program, the overall picture and the facts with a composed, unbiased and educated view. Silicon valley including the hospitality, retail, health care, education and other industries are still surviving because there are people earning money to consume the services with much gratitude, offered by local Americans. These people are in high tech industry.

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 unix guy florida

it's unbelievable the h1b and h2b visa programs weren't suspended at least during the recession. it was bad enough before with the flooding of the market with cheap labor when plenty of US citizens were out of work. makes me angry every time i hear a politician talk about retraining americans for jobs of the future when plenty of highly educated americans are out of work due to the h1b visa and h2b visa programs.

Tue, Sep 20, 2011 NY-IT New York, NY

I live this abuse every day. I am on a city Project for NYC and it is staffed not by willing and out of work citizens, but instead by over 30 H1B visa holders. I know quite a few people who are qualified and would love the work, but the management will only hire H1B Consultants from their home countries. This clearly violates City & Government procurement rules, but no one seems to care.

Mon, Sep 19, 2011 Barry Graham

This shows that 82% of H1B workers are honest, thus the program is very successful. I was part of it for 6 years, before getting my green card, then getting married, and having five children. During that time I became a citizen. I pay substantial tax to this country and I am proud of that. I am now working for a large IT company, have filed more than 20 patents with that company, several of which have been issued here in the USA. How dare you accuse me of participating in fraud.

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