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DOL announcement of enhanced oversight of H-1B guestworker program

Description:  On April 4, 2017, the Trump Department of Labor (DOL) announced a recommitment to using its existing enforcement authority on the H-1B visa program—a guestworker program for workers in professional occupations.

Fair Economy Impact: American employers have for too long used temporary guestworker visa programs to carve out an ever-larger zone in labor markets where workers are powerless to assert their rights. DOL announced it will initiate investigations of employers, engage stakeholders on the program, look into abuses of the program by H-1B-dependent employers (those with large shares of their workforces composed of H-1B workers), and also consider changes to the Labor Condition Application to improve transparency in the H-1B process.

Immigration policy should aim to provide fair pay and benefits to American workers and immigrants, not simply to provide employers with cheap labor from workers who are virtually indentured to them. DOL’s announcement did not provide specific information about its plan or about how DOL will conduct this enforcement given the massive cuts to the Labor Department included in President Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget. So while it is encouraging that the Trump DOL has signaled that it will examine the H-1B program, it remains to be seen whether this announcement will lead to enhanced enforcement that would benefit U.S. workers. Furthermore, the Trump administration’s criminalizing and scapegoating of immigrants has created a political climate in which meaningful immigration reforms are much more difficult to achieve.