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Policy: Labor

Union blasts Labor Department's OIG over foreign worker visa fraud stance

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

Calling it a "blow to American workers," the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers slammed the Labor Department's Office of the Inspector General for dropping foreign worker visa fraud from its annual list of top management concerns.

The union warned that the action would send "a signal to employers that it is open season to bypass hiring qualified American workers in favor of foreign workers who will work for lower wages." It called on Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to denounce the office's recommendation.

The IFPTE, which represents 80,000 people in the U.S. and Canada, has long been critical of the foreign worker programs, particularly the H-1B visa program, which allows companies to bring in high-tech workers from abroad.

In its 2013 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." The report was released Wednesday.

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 laws regarding guest worker programs, at least not in this particular annual yearend survey.

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

An Inspector General's Office spokesman stressed that they had not stopped investigating compliance in this area, noting that it would still be referenced in its 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 told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday. "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 IFPTE did not see it that way, saying a statement late Thursday:

"While guest-worker programs in the United States have many flaws, including the certification process, employers are nonetheless required to certify some criteria before sponsoring a guest-worker, including making good faith efforts to hire an American worker and that they will meet certain wage requirements. As a union whose members are negatively impacted by the abusive H-1B high-tech guest-worker program, IFPTE believes that the [office's] suggestion that ample auditing and oversight of employer certification compliance should no longer be a priority of the department is not only misguided, but also sends a signal to employers that it is open season to bypass hiring qualified American workers in favor of foreign workers who will work for lower wages. Despite the [office's] suggestion ... IFPTE is hopeful that Secretary Perez will stand up for American workers by denouncing this recommendation while allocating proper resources to the auditing and oversight of employer certification practices."

A spokesman for the Department of Labor could not be reached for comment.

Fraud in the visa programs had been a significant concern for the Inspector General's Office in previous years. In its 2012 report on top management concerns, it stated: "[I]nvestigations continue to uncover schemes carried out by immigration attorneys, labor brokers, and transnational organized crime groups." The schemes included applications on behalf of fictitious companies, applications using real companies' names without the companies' knowledge and use of falsified Labor Department documents in dealing with other federal or state government agencies.

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner