DHS, DOL refuse to investigate lawmaker claims of abuse in visa program for specialty workers

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A second federal agency has refused to look into claims that companies are using a popular visa program to displace American workers with cheap labor, ALToday.com has learned.

In early April, a bipartisan group of senators led by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin had urged the departments of Justice, Labor, and Homeland Security to investigate alleged abuses of the H-1B visa program. On April 23, a DOL official responded stating that the agency “lacks a basis to initiate an investigation.”

The Department of Homeland Security issued a response late last week saying that the agency would not be pursuing an investigation of the H-1B program.

The H-1B program allows employers to hire immigrant workers with highly specialized knowledge or education. Information from the Department of Labor website says that the program is intended to help companies that can’t find American workers with needed skills.

The senators claimed to have gotten reports that at least one large company, Southern California Edison, was using the program to replace and undercut wages for American workers.

“The U.S. is graduating twice as many STEM students each year as find jobs in those fields, yet the H-1B program continues to provide IT companies with a large annual supply of lower-wage guest workers to hire in place of more qualified Americans,” Senators Session and Durbin said in a joint news release. “There is no ‘shortage’ of talented Americans, only a shortage of officials willing to protect them.”

According to reports by the Los Angeles Times, Southern California Edison officials deny that they are seeking to displace U.S. workers, and have vowed to “cooperate with any investigation” initiated by the senators.

The DHS response to the senators’ letter came from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez. Rodriguez wrote,  “… it would be premature for USCIS to speculate as to whether Southern California Edison’s participation in the H-1B program has violated any laws. If facts come to our attention that indicate violations have occurred, USCIS will take appropriate action to maintain the integrity of our programs.”

In a prepared statement, the senators said they were “disappointed” with the DHS response. “We did not ask for speculation; we asked for an investigation, and an explanation of any legal obstacles to conducting such an investigation.”

Meanwhile, applications for the temporary visa program reached their congressionally mandated limit for the third year in a row, CNBC reported. According to that same story, USCIS began accepting 2016 applications in early April and met the 65,000 cap in just one week.

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