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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.

Among the findings is that H-1B workers are "often not paid wages associated with the highest skills in their fields." The report found that 54% of the workers from June 2009 to July 2010 "were categorized as entry-level positions and were paid at the lowest pay grades allowed under prevailing wage levels."

In a comparison of median annual salaries reveals that for systems analysts, programmers, and other computer-related workers, the GAO said that H-1B workers tended to earn less than U.S. workers, but some of this salary gap appears explained by differences in ages and experience, it noted.

The widest wage differential is for H-1B workers aged 40 to 50. They had median reported earnings that were significantly lower than the median earnings of U.S. workers in these IT occupations, the GAO reported.

But the GAO wasn't able to determine, definitively, the impact of H-1B visa use of the wages of other workers.

An often argued claim is that H-1B use is regulated by the economy, but the GAO said such a relationship to wages can't be inferred. "...[The] number of H-1B petitions tends to rise when wages and employment for U.S. workers are rising (although the number of approvals is limited by the H-1B cap), and to fall when wages and employment for U.S. workers are falling. However, this relationship does not reveal what the wage rates and employment rates of U.S. workers would have been in the absence of H-1B workers."

The GAO also found that over the decade, less than 1% of all employers with approved petitions were approved to hire almost 30% of all H-1B workers. At least 10 of the top 85 H-1B hiring employers in 2009 were outsourcing companies, of which six have headquarters or operations in India.

The GAO report also maps the frustration of the business community in hiring H-1B workers. It includes criticism directed at the lottery by the government to pick H-1B visa winners once the cap is exceeded.

Businesses are unable to prioritize their candidates for the lottery, the GAO pointed out. The report also describes how some businesses, unable to get an H-1B visa for a job candidate, have employed the worker overseas and then transferred that person to the U.S. on an L-1 visa.

Visa-related (V) paperwork was also a complaint, especially involving a government's "Request for Evidence," which is a formal request by the government for supporting documentation in a visa application.


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