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GAO, justice dept. seek H-1B visa reforms

Patrick Thibodeau | Jan. 14, 2011
The Government Accountability Office released a major report Friday on the H-1B program that assesses the visa program's use and recommends reforms.

FRAMINGHAM, 14 JANUARY 2011 - WASHINGTON -- The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a major report Friday the H-1B program that assesses the visa program's use and recommends reforms.

The watchdog agency's report has drawn reactions from other federal agencies, but particularly the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which builds on the report's finding with recommendations of its own.

The GAO's report ( PDF document ) -- one of its most exhaustive studies on the H-1B program by the U.S. in recent years -- sliced and diced data from various agencies about H-1B use, to offer a portrait by country and job skill.

About half of the users work in computer-related occupations in the 20-year-old visa program .

Investigators interviewed users of the visa as well as labor advocates, but focuses many of its recommendations of what federal agencies can be doing better to gather data, report it, and coordinate.

Overall, the report seems to give weight to the concerns raised by supporters and opponents of the program alike.

However, the GAO seeks some improvements. One recommendation calls for creation of a centralized Web site where businesses would be required to post notice of their intent to hire H-1B workers.

This recommendation was endorsed by the DOJ. Leon Rodriguez, the chief of staff of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, wrote in a letter included in the report, that the Web site "would help U.S. workers determine if they have been impermissibly replaced by H-1B visa holders and identify employers who may be engaged in a pattern of discrimination against U.S. workers."

But the DOJ went beyond the GAO's recommendations and made one of the own. It said that all employers, before they hire an H-1B holder, "should be required to 'test' the labor market to determine whether qualified U.S. workers are available and to hire any equally or better qualified U.S. workers who apply."

The U.S. Labor Dept. says that an H-1B employer "is not required to recruit U.S. workers" unless it is deemed dependent employer, meaning it has passed a certain threshold in hiring or is a violator. But these employers need only attest, rather than demonstrate, that they took good faith steps to hire a U.S. worker, according to the GAO.

Between 2000 and 2009, the majority of approved H-1B workers were born in Asia, with India accounting for about 47% and China, the second largest, at 9%.

Over the same period, more than 40% of approved H-1B workers were approved to fill occupations in systems analysis and programming, the GAO reported.


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