February 16, 2011
This is the final post in a four-part blog series reviewing the current H-1B visa program. (Parts I-III can be found HERE, HERE and HERE.) The intent of this series is to locate weaknesses within the program in order to work towards finding viable solutions. We hope our neighbors here in the Columbus, Ohio, community find these posts helpful as they interact with the program going forward.
The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the entire review of H-1B in January of 2011. The GAO interviewed 34 companies in specialized industries that rely on the visas for their foreign employees. Upon reviewing the program as well as discussing specific issues with the individual companies, the GAO produced formal recommendations for the Department of State, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice. A copy of the review was sent to each department. A series of responses were sent to the GAO and included at the end of the report.
The Department of Justice approved of the GAO’s suggestion that it create a website that would track H-1B petitions as well as companies that hire H-1B workers. The department mentioned that work is already underway to combine the Homeland Security and Department of State data systems. The statement said that combining the systems would provide direct information about the number of visas that are approved under the yearly cap.
However, the Department of Justice thought that while combining the systems would be helpful, it did not believe the measure would produce substantial improvement. The department explained that the Department of State’s data system does not account for workers who are in the United States and want to change their status. Also, the information that is collected will not be available in time to assist in determining the yearly cap. The only area of the review that the Department of Justice did not support was one the GAO made directly to Congress and the USCIS about changing the requirements for LCA reviews.
Homeland Security also provided comments about the GAO’s H1-B visa program review and suggestions. In regards to allowing certain companies to be exempt from various steps in the petition process, Homeland Security stated that current law does not allow them to make exceptions based on past records. The GAO had mentioned that companies would like to be able to rank petitions according to the importance of the workers to the company. Homeland Security stated that having a ranking system would only further complicate the H-1B petition process.
In the review, the GAO responded to this claim by stating that an advanced electronic system would greatly simplify the ranking process. Homeland Security expressed that having quarterly caps instead of a yearly cap is not warranted or feasible. The GAO responded to this statement explaining that quarterly caps would be possible if a new electronic petition system was developed and enacted. The Department of Homeland Security also disagreed with the GAO’s suggestion to Congress about the USCIS taking up the responsibility of handling all LCA reviews. Homeland Security stated the USCIS lacks the necessary internal expertise in regards to wage and labor determinations. However, the GAO explains in the report that the Department of Labor previously stated that their review is actually quite limited and could be handled by the USCIS in order to simplify the H-1B petition process.
In conclusion, the GAO produced a quality report that analyzed the current state of the H1-B Visa program. The suggestions that were made to Congress as well as the four specific departments that are involved with H-1B visas will help to bring about the changes critical to restoring the validity of the entire visa program. The GAO noted at the end of its review that Homeland Security has an ongoing Transformation Project. The intent of the project is to review concepts and solutions for issues that are impacting the H1-B visa program. The majority of the report was accepted and will be considered as modifications are made to improve how H1-B visa petitions are handled. The GAO explained that improving the current program is vital in order to amend immigration and strengthen the specialty workforces in the United States.