Durbin, Grassley Ask Homeland Security to Prevent Abuses in Legal Foreign Worker Visa Program

Calling the system for awarding residency to high-end immigrant workers "riddled with loopholes," a Republican senator and his Democratic colleague have asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to respond to long-standing problems in the H-1B visa program. 

Sens. Charles, Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate Majority Whip on the panel, pointed to a Government Accountability Office report that said shortcomings in the process by which employers bring in foreign workers is allowing major abuses to the system. 

"Senator Durbin and I have been highlighting fraud and abuse within the H-1B program for years, and this report reiterates those concerns. It's time we get the program back to its original intent where employers use H-1B visas only to shore-up employment in areas where there is a lack of qualified American workers," Grassley said. 

The two, who say qualified Americans must be given first consideration over foreign workers for specific jobs, wrote to Napolitano expressing appreciation for her attention to the matter, but saying fraud and abuse must be better addressed by the federal government.  

Among the lawmakers' top concerns were inconsistencies in the way the federal government processes companies' applications for foreign workers, an absence of certainty about the number of visas distributed annually and an inability to track how many workers stay beyond the expiration of their visas. 

"We are deeply troubled that DHS has no idea how many H-1B visa holders are working in the United States at a time when millions of Americans are unemployed. GAO explained the consequences: 'Lack of information on the total H-1B workforce makes it impossible to understand the long-term impact of the program and leaves the program vulnerable to fraud and abuse -- a known issue in this program,'" they wrote.

They added that another area rife with abuse is among college graduates who are granted extensions in their visas while they consider whether to return home, and in a new rule that would bypass a system for ensuring visa holders are given proper wage rates and working conditions.