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7/19/2006
12:20 PM
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Group Wants U.S. Gov. To Reveal Who's Asking For H-1B Workers Now

Should the U.S. Dept. of Labor provide public access to a government database that purportedly contains information about employers planning to hire H-1B workers for fiscal 2007, which starts on Oct. 1, 2006? Kim Berry, president of advocate group Programmers Guild, says he wants U.S. tech workers to have the chance to more fairly compete for jobs that might otherwise go to foreigners. U.S. workers should have the opportunity right now to look at requests employers have made to the DOL to fill

Should the U.S. Dept. of Labor provide public access to a government database that purportedly contains information about employers planning to hire H-1B workers for fiscal 2007, which starts on Oct. 1, 2006?

Kim Berry, president of advocate group Programmers Guild, says he wants U.S. tech workers to have the chance to more fairly compete for jobs that might otherwise go to foreigners.

U.S. workers should have the opportunity right now to look at requests employers have made to the DOL to fill IT positions with H-1B visa holders--before the foreign workers can legally begin the jobs starting on Oct. 1, says Berry.

If American workers can check out which employers are hiring for which jobs and at what wages, well, then maybe some interested (or out-of-work) American techies will have a shot to apply for those jobs before they're filled by foreigners."If we see that, for example, HP is hiring 40 software engineers at a reasonable salary, then U.S. workers in that area can follow up regarding those openings," says Berry.

Berry this week faxed and e-mailed a letter to Bill Carlson, a DOL official, requesting that the U.S. government provide public access to information about Labor Conditions Applications regarding requests for H-1B visas for fiscal 2007.

Berry says the LCA database contains info about employers that are being granted permission by the DOL to hire H-1B workers in fiscal 2007.

The DOL typically provides access to prior years' LCA data, but not information for the upcoming fiscal year.

Berry says the DOL told him that data for fiscal 2007 doesn't yet exist, that the latest info the department has goes back to fiscal 2005--and that even fiscal 2006 won't be available till January.

Berry says he doesn't believe that information about H-1B requests for fiscal 2007 doesn't yet exist in a database--the Labor Conditions Application info has to go somewhere once an employer hits the "submit" button on its request, he says.

Indeed LCA information about employer requests for fiscal 2007 does exist somewhere. However, there's "lag time" in making this data available to the public, says a spokesman from the DOL, who returned InformationWeek's phone calls to Carlson after this blog was originally posted on July 19.

The lag time, which is usually at least three months, includes time for the DOL to "scrub" the data and ensure privacy. That scrubbing includes removing Social Security numbers and employer tax ID info, says the spokesman. Just as it takes time for the DOL to compile its unemployment figures every month before they're released, so too does it take time to compile LCA data to make it accessible to the public, he says.

Besides, under government regulations, employers are the ones that are supposed to be informing the public of intent to hire foreign workers--not the DOL, he says. Employers are supposed to inform the public 30 days preceding the date when the LCA--or request for H-1B workers--is submitted to the DOL. Postings can be done in one of two ways--hard copy in a "conspicuous" location, or electronically, which means e-mail or posting on e-bulletin boards or home Web pages--whichever way an employer "normally" communicates with employees. But in Berry's letter to Carlson, Berry writes, "since disclosure of the fiscal 2007 LCA database now could provide U.S. workers with a wealth of information about job opportunities, declining to release this public data now appears to violate the fundamental purpose of your division--to protect U.S. workers."

Employers on April 1 were able to begin submitting H-1B petitions for fiscal 2007. But by June 1, the U.S. government had already received enough petitions to meet the congressionally mandated cap of 65,000 H-1B for fiscal 2007.

But even if the DOL were to provide access to its LCAs for fiscal 2007, Berry acknowledges that many of those employers have already made commitments to hire specific foreign workers in jobs starting Oct. 1 or sometime afterward.

Also, "many H-1B employers are body shops that hire almost exclusively H-1B because that is the nature of their business," so American tech pros wouldn't have a shot at those jobs anyway, says Berry.

What do you think about all this? Think it would matter much if the DOL made its LCA data available to the public faster?

Or do you think it's up to the American tech worker to do the legwork, like checking out public job sites or company "job pages" to see who's hiring?

Let us know what you think about all this.

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