Washington: The US has said it will "rigorously" use its authority to initiate investigations of H-1B visa violators, signalling an intensified effort by the Trump administration to stop "abuse" of the programme mainly used by Indian IT firms and professionals.
The Labour Department said its effort to protect American workers will involve greater coordination with other government departments for investigation and, if necessary, prosecution.
The Labour Department is the third federal agency after the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Justice Department to implement the Trump administration's pledge to prevent abuse of H-1B visas.
It said it fully supports the justice department in cautioning employers who petition for H-1B visas not to discriminate against US workers, as well as the homeland security department's measures to further deter and detect H-1B visa fraud and abuse.
The labour department yesterday said it will protect American workers against discrimination by considering changes to Labour Condition Application for future application cycles.
The Labour Condition Application, which is a required part of the H-1B visa application process, may be updated to provide greater transparency for agency personnel, US workers and the general public, it said.
Two top Senators demanding reforms of the visa programme popular among Indian techies - Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin - in a statement said the measures announced by the various federal agencies were a welcome step but not enough.
"This announcement by the Trump administration to target employers who abuse the H-1B programme is a welcomed first step toward preventing the firing of skilled American workers.
However, much more needs to be done," they said. "The president should continue using his authority to prevent outsourcing companies from displacing American workers".
Grassley and Durbin have introduced legislation in January to restore Congress' original intent in the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes by increasing enforcement, modifying wage requirements and securing protections for both American workers and visa holders.
"The H-1B worker visa programme was created to fill gaps in the high-skilled American workforce, not to displace American workers. Yet, stories of employers who abuse or exploit the H-1B programme at the expense of American workers are well documented," the two senators said.
On Monday, the White House warned against abuse of H-1B visas by companies, saying the Trump administration will enforce laws protecting Americans from "discriminating hiring practices".
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has a Congressional mandate to issue 65,000 H-1B visas this year and another 20,000 for those applicants having higher education - masters and above - from US universities in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
USCIS started accepting application process for this year's H-1B visas on Monday. Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division said: "The Justice Department will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against US workers."
The anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) generally prohibits employers from discriminating against US workers because of their citizenship or national origin in hiring, firing and recruiting. Employers violate the INA if they have a discriminatory hiring preference that favours H-1B visa holders over US workers, the Justice Department said in a statement.
The USCIS said that the US government is going to be tough and stringent in approval of H-1B visas this year. It said the H-1B visa programme should help American firms recruit highly-skilled foreign nationals when there is a shortage of qualified workers in the country.
"Yet, too many American workers who are as qualified, willing and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged. Protecting American workers by combating fraud in our employment-based immigration programs is a priority for USCIS," a media statement said.
Also announcing the launch of a email helpline against abuse and fraud of H-1B visas, USCIS said it will now onwards take a more targeted approach when making site visits across the country to H-1B petitioners and the worksites of H-1B employees.
USCIS will focus on cases where USCIS cannot validate the employer's basic business information through commercially available data; H-1B-dependent employers (those who have a high ratio of H-1B workers as compared to US workers, as defined by statute); and employers petitioning for H-1B workers who work off-site at another company or organisation's location. (PTI)