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H1B workers must brace for heightened scrutiny as Trump Govt doubles down on compliance

H1B shops in the US are in for heightened scrutiny as America’s top border control agency is recommending stricter methods to deal with wrongdoers and is keen to pursue even “unverified” reasons that lead to suspicion of below-the-radar abuse of non-immigrant work visas.

The H-1B visa programme currently absorbs 85,000 skilled workers in “speciality occupations” into the US mostly in medicine and information technology. Fashion models also qualify under the H1B category and it is how First Lady Melania Trump entered the US before she married the incumbent US President. Of the 85,000 yearly quota, 20,000 are kept aside for those with postgraduate degrees from American universities.

The present level of checks against H1B workers provide bare “minimum” assurance of complinace with regulation, the DHS writes in a new 33 page report on policing this most embattled of all work visas in the US.

 H1B workers must brace for heightened scrutiny as Trump Govt doubles down on compliance

File image of US president Donald Trump. AP

Site visits to nail H1B wrongdoers must be planned and conducted far more meticulously, Department of Homeland Security has advised its subsidiary agency the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Set up in response to the September 11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Secutiry is the youngest lynchpin of the US Cabinet and the OIG arm’s job is to detect fraud, identify risk areas and recommend corrective action.

DHS begins its report suggesting the move to arm the USCIS with more teeth in its effort to detect fraud: “USCIS site visits provide minimal assurance that H-1B visa participants are compliant and not engaged in fraudulent activity. These visits assess whether petitioners and beneficiaries comply with applicable immigration laws and regulations. USCIS can approve more than 330,000 H-1B petitions each year and, as of April 2017, reported more than 680,000 approved and valid H-1B petitions. USCIS conducts a limited number of visits and does not always ensure the officers are thorough and comprehensive in their approach” is how the report begins on Page 1.

The Office of the Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, has said that targeted site visits to determine the integrity of the H1B visa program are not the best way to fix the problems. In parallel though, site visits are falling prey to high turnover of investigation officers and insufficient training and context for the officers to detect potential but less than obvious fraud.

Although USCIS reports to Congress claimed that these site visits can detect fraud schemes and are a fraud deterrent, the agency does not provide training to IOs to assist them with detecting potential fraud during site visits for referral to more experienced IOs.

Each H1B worker’s file is vetted in stages by several federal agencies - The Department of Labor is the first to check the initial paperwork followed by the Department of Homeland Security and then the Department of State. The role of the USCIS is to adjudicate the validity of H-1B petitions.

Early this year, the Trump administration has made whistleblowing the easiest it has been in the last three decades that the H1B has been in existence. The USCIS and the OIG both now have email IDs accepting reports of wrongdoing.

So far as immigration policy goes, what’s significant in Year 1 of Trump is this: Not a single law has changed, not a single legislation has raced through the US Congress but H1B workers are sweating. They are infinitely more careful, they are putting off travel plans, their paperwork is more thorough, many of the once robotic steps of their visa processing have now become hard knuckle face-to-face interviews.

In the nearly 30 years since its birth in 1990, the H1B visa has come in for maximum flogging in the first year of President Trump.

The backlash is not so much about the movement of “highly skilled workers” across borders, the idea of the H1B visa ties in perfectly with the pain points of Trump’s core base. It’s a successful pin-up for the culture wars ignited by Trump after an eight year stint by America’s first African American President Barack Obama.

Expect the outrage to intensify (not against long legged models though).

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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2017 20:57:57 IST

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