GAO Discovers Thousands Of Foreign Workers Are Underpaid

But the percentage is small compared with the number of H-1B visas granted, the Labor Department responds.
Thousands of foreign nationals hired under the H-1B visa program have been paid less than prevailing wages, congressional auditors reported last week. But the percentage being underpaid is small.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that the Labor Department certified 3,229 H-1B visa applications from January 2002 to September 2005, even though the promised wages were lower than the prevailing salaries for those jobs.

The percentage of petitions not paying the prevailing wage is miniscule. During that period, the government processed 960,000 petitions and approved nearly all of them, most being renewals of visa holders working in the United States.

The GAO recommended that the Labor Department improve its checks of applications. Though Labor suggested that would require too much effort for too little payback, it informed Congress it would look into improving the system.

"The error rate was extremely low compared to the universe of applications processed, about three-tenths of 1%," Emily Stover DeRocco, assistant labor secretary for employment and training, said in a written response to the GAO report. "By most standards [the error rate] does not signal a significant program weakness." That's small comfort to underpaid foreign workers--or unemployed U.S. workers.

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