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H-1B, B-1 visa scrutiny threatens IT outsourcing providers

Stephanie Overby | Sept. 22, 2011
IT outsourcing companies are starting to feel the pinch from increased U.S. government scrutiny of H-1B and other nonimmigrant visa programs.

The Social Security Administration's (SSA) Office of Inspector General this month published a report citing incidents of misuse of the H-1B visa among sponsoring employers and visa holders.

Specifically, the Inspector General's Office found that as many as 18 percent of H-1B visa holders may have used their social security numbers for purposes other than to work for their approved employers. Examining a sample of 200 records to assess H-1B workers' use of social security numbers, the report says that 11 percent of the visa holders reported wages from companies other than the employer that sponsored them, and seven percent reported no U.S. wages at all.

H-1B visa holders may only work for sponsoring employers after approval by the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security. Although most of the non-compliant H-1B workers had posted wages from employers in fields associated with technical or specialty occupations, the report noted that one H-1B worker had earnings from a restaurant and janitorial service.

The SSA's Inspector General's Office contacted the employers of the H-1B workers who did not receive wages; six acknowledged sponsoring the worker but said the H-1B holder had never worked for the company, and three said they had no record of the H-1B recipients, although Department of Homeland Security (DHS) records indicated they were the sponsoring employers.

Field office personnel responsible for processing the visa holders' social security number applications said in interviews with the inspector general team that some H-1B workers acknowledged they would not receive wages in the United States because their employers would pay them in their home countries. Others admitted that they planned to work for a company other than their authorized employer, according to the report.

"Unauthorized work by H-1B workers weakens [social security number] integrity and may require that the [SSA] pay future benefits to individuals who misuse a [social security number] to work in the United States," concludes the report, which also questions whether H-1B workers need social security numbers if their employers do not report wages.

The SSA's report is the latest evidence of increased government scrutiny of the nonimmigrant visas-like the H-1B, the L-1 and the B-1-that IT outsourcing companies rely on to perform work in the U.S.

The SSA's findings generally line up with a 2008 report from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service which found that 21 percent of H-1B petitions it examined involved fraud or technical violations.

The additional attention being paid to nonimmigrant visas could prove problematic for outsourcers and their clients. "We have anecdotal evidence from numerous IT outsourcing suppliers that an increased level of scrutiny on-and rejection rates for-B-1 visas is hindering their ability to conduct internal meetings and training for foreign employees in the U.S.," says Peter Bendor-Samuel, CEO of outsourcing consultancy Everest Group. "It is highly likely that this same [investigative] approach will be taken throughout the remainder of the election cycle regarding H-1B visas and L-1 visas."


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