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Sessions: Paying H-1B visa holders less than US workers is illegal

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services jointly announced that they will be cracking down on companies who sponsor H-1B visa holders in order to pay them less than U.S. workers. They also reaffirmed that computer programmers ordinarily aren't eligible for H-1B visas without a bachelor's degree.

In a press release, the Justice Department warned employers that pay discrimination based on national origin -- such as sponsoring foreign workers to drive down wages -- violates the Immigration and Naturalization Act. For emphasis, he might also have mentioned that discriminating against anyone based on national origin also violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

"The Justice Department will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against US workers," added Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division. Paying foreign workers lower wages probably does drive down wages overall, and it is also discriminatory against the H-1B visa holder -- also illegal.

"The memo doesn't change policy as far as we can tell," said one critic of the H-1B program.

In its press release entitled "Putting American Workers First," the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it plans to intensify investigations of companies suspected of abusing the H-1B program. In particular, it plans to target India-based outsourcing companies for special scrutiny, as they often bring in large numbers of computer programmers -- then contract them out at low rates to other companies.

The heightened scrutiny might have more teeth, according to one immigration law attorney. "This is a subtle change that can have a big impact on the Indian consulting companies," he said. "It's essentially telling them that you can't use that category."

Additional scrutiny will also be applied to any employer with a suspiciously high percentage of H-1B holders on the payroll.

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