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H-1B Investigations–USCIS Run Amok!

As many of our members know, the USCIS is like a Jekyll and Hyde creation. With one face, USCIS happily grants benefits, issues approvals, and welcomes people as citizens. With the other face UCSIS distrusts everyone, believes there is a lie on every application, and looks for ways to disqualify clearly qualified applicants. As you all know, this is not an exaggeration. It is true of an agency still steeped in the “Culture of No.”
Many of you remember the Religious Worker “Benefit Fraud Assessment Teams” that went out to make sure that the Catholic Church was actually still in business. The ability of the USCIS to conduct effective program reviews, rather than just sticking with its core strength of adjudications is rather dubious, to say the least. Recently AILA shared some information about a “new” benefit fraud assessment program in which USCIS is beginning to use the millions of dollars it has received over the last decade from the “fraud fee” in the H-1B program. This new program involves the hiring of a private contractor to send “investigators” out to conduct 25,0000 site visits to H-1B employers to verify if the H-1B employee is working at the employer and performing the work as outlined in the H-1B petition. Yesterday, a client of mine received such a visit, and thanks to a terrific Human Resources Professional, we have a brief report of the scope of this style of fraud “investigation:”

The investigator came back yesterday. Her name was ______________. She indicated that she was a contractor hired to conduct these investigations (this is similar to the investigators that conduct the background investigations for government clearances). She had a badge with a picture.

She first met with me (HR REP). She asked me some very basic questions about the company, what we did, how many employees we had, work hours, office locations, etc. She also asked me how many employees we had on H1Bs, how many we had sponsored for permanent residency and how many total of our employees are legal permanent residents. It was hard to answer these off the top of my head. She said approximate numbers were ok even after I offered to get an employee list that I could look at to get her the exact numbers. She then asked me a couple of questions about the H-1B employee – what he did, his salary, work hours and start date. She asked me for ID so she could verify that I was who I said I was and she asked to see a W-2 or pay stub. I didn’t have either so I showed her the payroll register from our last payroll which satisfied her requirement. She then met with the foreign national employee for a couple of minutes. He said that she asked him about his job duties, work hours and salary. She also checked his ID. She asked me for a quick tour around our offices and left.

It was a pretty quick process. None of her questions were hard to answer – hopefully we passed. She was very nice and professional. I did apologize to her that I missed her when she came over the first time and she said that they want their visits to be “surprise” visits so unfortunately this is a problem they have to deal with.

The foreign national employee did tell me that he asked her if he was selected randomly and she indicated that he wasn’t – I guess they are going to be doing this for everyone.

You can see from this brief report that we as attorneys have yet another issue with which to deal. Now we must advise our clients of these waste of time investigations not targeted to find those employers or employees abusing the H-1B program, but rather designed to throw as much enforcement as the government cannot afford at a problem that does not exist in order to justify jobs and and the expense of a program that should be more effectively and efficiently run. Just what we need in the middle of an economic downturn, more government regulators! Where is John Galt when you need him?
What makes the expenditures of these funds in such a random way even more outrageous is the recent report noting that the number of affirmative filings to USCIS has decreased by almost 50% year over year at the USCIS. Because USCIS’s budget is entirely dependent on fees paid by users, the question becomes this: why is USCIS spending money on a program “looking” for problems when they would be better off using their resources to solve the problems they already have as an agency and better manage the extant operations that need to run more effectively.

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