By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice and State departments have agreed to share information in order to better probe companies that abuse visa programs used to hire foreign workers, the latest effort by the Trump administration to crack down on immigration abuses.
The information-sharing agreement was announced on Wednesday by the Justice Department. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made immigration issues one of his priorities since taking over at the head of the department in February.
Under the memorandum of understanding, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs will agree to share information about companies that could be discriminating against American workers or lying on employment-based visa applications.
The types of visa under scrutiny include the H-1B, a program routinely used by technology firms like Tata Consultancy Services Ltd
Other visa programs, such as the H-2A and H-2B, are used for hiring temporary or seasonal agricultural workers and temporary non-agricultural workers, respectively.
The Labor Department, which plays a crucial role in reviewing visa program applications by companies, announced earlier this year it planned to step up efforts to root out fraud and make more criminal referrals, after President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April calling for a review as part of his “America First” pledge.
Sessions, meanwhile, has long been concerned about possible misuse of these visa programs by companies, and made it a big issue during his time in the U.S. Senate.
By law, companies are not allowed to discriminate against U.S. workers on the basis of citizenship.
Companies that have a workforce of more than 15 percent of H-1B workers, meanwhile, are also required to try recruiting U.S. workers first and attest they are not displacing Americans.
That visa program, however, includes a provision that exempts companies from those requirements if they pay H-1B workers more than $60,000 a year or hire those with a graduate degree. Historically, this has complicated Justice Department efforts to police discrimination.
However, recently, the Justice Department has had some success in bringing cases against companies that hire seasonal, non-highly skilled workers.
Most recently, it filed a lawsuit in September against an agricultural company in Colorado for allegedly discriminating against U.S. seasonal technicians, in favor of H-2A foreign workers.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Frances Kerry)