Feds Announce New Efforts to Protect American Workers

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Justice partner in taking new steps to combat fraud, discrimination

President Donald Trump’s administration Friday announced a pair of initiatives designed to protect American workers from fraud and unfair hiring of foreign workers.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency jointly announced a memorandum of understanding that increases cooperation in identifying fraud, abuse and discrimination by employers who bypass hiring Americans in favor of foreign workers entering the country on temporary visas.

USCIS also posted a policy memorandum tightening rules on when foreign students are considered to have overstayed their visas.

Taken together, the changes announced Friday represent a milestone in fulfilling Trump’s promise to overhaul a nonimmigrant visa system that critics long have contended is abused and exploited by businesses.

“In the spirit of President Trump’s executive order on buy American and hire American, today’s partnership adds to the civil rights division’s tools to stop employers from discriminating against U.S. workers by favoring foreign visa workers,” acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said in a statement.

“The division looks forward to expanding its partnerships with USCIS to hold accountable employers that discriminate against U.S. workers based on their citizenship status.”

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Bright Future Jobs, a Chicago-based organization that advocates on behalf of American technology workers, cheered the news. Donna Conroy, the group’s director, told LifeZette that companies take advantage of a variety of visa programs to squeeze out American workers.

The biggest abusers, Conroy said, are staffing firms that stockpile foreign workers and then offer them as long-term temp workers to tech firms throughout the country. Those companies benefit from getting labor without having to commit to full-time employees with benefits.

Conroy said American workers, who often are not even considered for the positions, suffer the consequences. Several years ago, she identified dozens of online job postings that explicitly sought employees with guest-worker visas, which effectively shut out American job seekers.

Conroy said if the government follows through on commitments to reforming visa programs, it will significantly impact the business model of staffing agencies.

“I strongly suspect some of these labor traffickers will close up shop,” she said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made it clear when he took office that the DOJ would not only enforce anti-discrimination laws based on national origin when foreign-born people are victims but also would go after firms that discriminate against American citizens. Last year, the Justice Department’s civil rights division opened up dozens of investigations, filed one lawsuit, and reached settlement agreements with two employers.

Officials said companies have agreed to pay or have distributed more than $200,000 in back pay to American workers.

“Protecting and maintaining the integrity of our immigration system remains a key priority for me, and underpins the exceptional work of the professionals at USCIS.”

USCIS has created tip lines to solicit information about fraud and abuse involving the H-1B guest-worker program for high-tech workers and the H-2B program for low-skill, nonagricultural guest workers. The agency also has expanded inspections of job sites, according to the agency

“Protecting and maintaining the integrity of our immigration system remains a key priority for me, and underpins the exceptional work of the professionals at USCIS,” USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said in a statement.

The other policy change USCIS officials announced involves foreigners in the United States on F, J and M nonimmigrant visas and will go into effect August 9. Officials aim to prevent people from staying in the United States after those temporary visas expire, as is often the case now.

Related: If More H-2Bs Are Scary, Here Comes a Flood of H-2A Ag Visas, Too

“The message is clear: These nonimmigrants cannot overstay their periods of admission or violate the terms of admission and stay illegally in the U.S. anymore,” Cissna said in the statement.

F visas are available to foreigners for academic studies or language training programs. J visas are available to research scholars, professors, and exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange. And M visas are available to foreigners enrolled in vocational and technical schools.

A foreigner who enters on one of those visas and stays 180 days after it expires can be subject to penalties that prohibit a return to the United States for three or 10 years, depending on how long the foreigner remained illegally in the country.

The rules that take effect in August will start the clock running sooner on that 180-day period.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

(photo credit, article image: Jeff Sessions, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore)

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