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Policy: Labor

Labor's watchdog drops monitoring visa programs from list of top management concerns

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Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Immigration,Labor,Analysis,Inspectors General

In its annual report on top management challenges facing the Labor Department, the department's Office of the Inspector General announced it would no longer highlight the "challenges pertaining to Foreign Labor Certification programs and procurement integrity."

In other words, the department’s top internal watchdog says it no longer needs to highlight any problems with ensuring that people are complying with the laws regarding guest worker programs, at least not in this particular annual year-end survey.

This specifically covers reports on compliance related to the H-1B program, which allows employers to bring in high-skilled workers, and the H-2A and H-2B programs, which cover lower-skilled workers.

The Office of the Inspector General's 2013 report, released today, states:

Changes from the [fiscal year] 2012 Top Management Challenges report include the deletion of the challenges pertaining to Foreign Labor Certification programs and procurement integrity. Although we still consider these challenges to be significant issues for the Department, we believe they no longer pose the greatest threat to the Department in meeting its mission to workers, retirees, beneficiaries and taxpayers. We will continue to conduct audit and investigative work and report the Department’s challenges in these program areas in our ‘Significant Concerns’ section of the OIG’s Semiannual Report to the Congress.

The announcement is included on the very last page of the report. The Inspector General's Office is the Labor branch tasked with conducting "audits, investigations, and evaluations" of department programs to "detect and prevent fraud and abuse."

A spokesman for the Inspector General's Office stressed that they had not stopped investigating compliance in this area, pointing to the section noting that it would still be referenced in the semiannual reports to Congress. They were just dropping it from this annual report.

“These are still significant areas of concern for the [office],” the spokesman said. “But for the top management challenges, we really wanted to focus the report on the areas that posed the greatest threat to the department’s mission. That is the only reason why we removed it.”

The spokesman added that it was simply a decision they made while brainstorming on the report.

Previous reports on top management concerns had devoted considerable space to foreign labor certification issues. The 2012 report on top management concerns stated: "[I]nvestigations continue to uncover schemes carried out by immigration attorneys, labor brokers, and transnational organized crime groups. Our investigations have repeatedly revealed that fraudulent applications [were] filed with DOL on behalf of fictitious companies, as well as schemes wherein fraudulent applications were filed using the names of legitimate companies without the companies' knowledge. Additionally, we continue to uncover complex schemes involving fraudulent DOL [Foreign Labor Certification] documents required by other federal and state organizations."

The 2012 report called for Labor to evaluate the results of its certification processes, bolster monitoring of the H-2B application process, enhance the integrity of its employer verification services and ensure that companies prohibited from participating in the various programs were indeed excluded.

Matthew Biggs, spokesman for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a union that has been critical of the foreign labor programs, was surprised by the change.

"What evidence do they have to suggest that this no longer poses a threat to workers? That's what I am wondering," Biggs said. "These programs are a threat, and the employer abuse of them is a threat to American workers."

Organized labor has long expressed concern that the visa programs allow employers to hire cheap foreign labor at the expense of American workers. It took the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce several months of negotiations earlier this year before they could reach a deal that would allow them to jointly back a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

David North, a fellow at the restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies, said that ensuring compliance with the programs "certainly should be a top concern of the department." The report shows Labor’s "institutional vigor" on this issue has declined, he said.

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