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Originally published Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Report finds fraud in 20% of H-1B applications

Federal investigators discovered fraud in more than 20 percent of applications they examined in which employers were requesting H-1B visas...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Federal investigators discovered fraud in more than 20 percent of applications they examined in which employers were requesting H-1B visas to hire foreign professionals in the U.S., a finding they called a "significant vulnerability."

In a report released late last year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service cited one especially egregious case in which an employer petitioned for a business-development analyst position but later told investigators the worker would be doing laundry and maintaining washing machines.

The report's findings appear to vindicate some critics of the H-1B program, who have said the hiring of foreign professionals hurts U.S. workers.

The immigration service promised procedural changes in the wake of the findings, but warned that the findings were not an indictment of the program overall.

"The H-1B program is immensely valuable, and most employers and workers who use it, use it properly," spokeswoman Sharon Rummery said.

Investigators picked a random sample of 246 H-1B applications out of the 96,827 filed by employers between Oct. 1, 2005, and March 31, 2006. Holders of such visas must have at least a bachelor's degree or the equivalent, and employers are required to pay them the prevailing wage.

But investigators found instances in which workers forged their employment and education credentials to obtain visas. No actual U.S. employer even existed in some cases.

Some employers failed to pay the prevailing wage or "benched" the H-1B workers — an illegal practice of not paying them or paying a fraction of what they are required to during times when there's no work.

Investigators found higher incidences of fraud among smaller, less established employers. And violations were more common among workers with a bachelor's degree, those who were outside the U.S. when they were hired, and those in such occupations as accounting, human resources, sales and advertising.

And just last week, federal agents arrested 11 people and indicted a New Jersey employer on suspected H-1B visa-fraud charges, including money laundering and using false documents to obtain jobs.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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