Thomas Elias: Where to find the real cheats in immigration |

Thomas Elias: Where to find the real cheats in immigration

When agents of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) stage roundups of undocumented immigrants illegally employed around America, they almost never visit the likes of Cisco Systems, Intel, Qualcomm and other high-technology giants.

Rather, they usually hit relatively small shops and factories with fewer than 300 workers, places where they’ve been tipped off to illegal employment.

They also don’t usually raid churches, mosques, ashrams and other religious organizations often operated by and for immigrants, legal or not.

There’s one big reason for this: Most of the recent immigrants employed by technology corporations and religious institutions have visas.

This, of course, is very different from saying there is no cheating in these places. In fact, a look at the applications filed last spring for 65,000 H-1B temporary worker visas indicates there’s a whole lot of cheatin’ goin’ on.

H1-Bs are supposed to go only to foreign workers whose employers sign sworn statements asserting that they cannot find any American citizen workers to do the same work. Organizations of American engineers and computer programmers have claimed for decades those declarations are lies. They say the H1-B visas are used by big companies as a way to get skilled labor more cheaply than they can by hiring Americans.

That claim gained credibility in June, with Internet exposure of a marketing video showing a major Pennsylvania law firm advising companies how to fake a search for American workers while actually paving the way for low-wage foreign job-seekers.

Plus, a look at the visa applications filed on the first day the government accepted them this year indicates the gripes of disgruntled out-of-work – but highly qualified – Americans are likely correct.

For out of 132,182 applications received on that first day for the 65,000 available H1-B visas, just 12,989 were from workers with master’s degrees or higher. So the vast bulk of the applications came from workers with bachelor’s degrees or less. No one has ever claimed there is a shortage of American workers with those academic qualifications.

Legally, workers with advanced degrees are exempt from the 65,000-visa H1-B cap, so all applicants in that rarefied category should have no problem getting work permits. But officials of the U.S. immigration agency said they would hold a lottery to pick the other 65,000 visa recipients.

The immigration officials said nothing about the most obvious feature of the applications they received: Applicants with master’s degrees or doctorates amounted to less than 10 percent of the workers seeking legal jobs in America. The visas are good for three years and can be renewed for three more.

This scene bothered H1-B critic Kim Berry, president of the national Programmer’s Guild, who noted the small ratio of applicants with advanced degrees puts the lie to the notion that the visas are only for the most highly skilled of workers, whose abilities cannot be duplicated from the domestic work force.

What’s obvious here is that the high-tech industry isn’t necessarily seeking better workers from abroad than it can hire domestically, but rather is looking for workers who will accept lower salaries for the same work just to get their foot in the immigration door.

Meanwhile, CIS chief Emilio Gonzalez admits that his agency has found huge flaws in the special visa program allowing religious workers into America.

“We found that the program had been compromised and the fraud rate was excessively high,” he said.

Suspicions about illegal manipulation of religious worker visas first arose two years ago, when federal agents charged two Muslim imams with running a terrorist cell from a mosque in the Central California city of Lodi.

Both imams had entered via such visas and both are now back in Pakistan. But the CIS investigation revealed one basement mosque in Brooklyn brought in more than 200 persons on false applications. No one knows if any of them were nascent terrorists.

By this fall, Gonzalez says, every religious organization seeking to import clergy on religious worker visas will receive a visit from a CIS agent assigned to determine whether the application reflects a real need.

It’s about time. And there’s also the matter of the H-1Bs: Why don’t CIS officials visit prospective employers of these immigrants, too, to determine whether they have a real need or are simply seeking to lower their payroll?

CIS might plead it lacks the manpower to conduct such investigations, but the real reason the immigration authorities remain willing to accept the word of large companies, but not the word of religious organizations, is that the big employers have more effective lobbying. And yet, until such investigations are conducted regularly, the suspicion that H1-B visas are just another form of corporate welfare and worker exploitation will remain credible.

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