Collins grills agencies on foreign labor

By MATT WICKENHEISER, Portland Press Herald Writer

Portland Press Herald
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
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FOR MORE READ THE investigative series.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has sent letters to the heads of the U.S.
Department of Labor and the Citizenship and Immigration Service, asking
what their agencies have done to address problems in foreign-labor
programs that were detailed in a recent Portland Press Herald/Maine
Sunday Telegram investigation.

Collins wrote in her capacity as chairwoman of the Senate’s
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. It’s the first
official call for answers from federal authorities since the
newspaper’s series ran in late September.

The three-part series detailed concerns about the H1B visa program
and the permanent green-card system. H1B visas let skilled foreign
workers such as engineers, programmers and accountants work in the
United States for three years, with a three-year extension. Green cards
let foreigners live and work here indefinitely.

“If the individuals that receive visas do not actually work at the
company and the location listed on the visa applications, we have no
assurance that the true purpose of the visa applicant is not to enter
the U.S. to commit terrorist acts or to otherwise harm our citizens,”
Collins wrote in both letters.

She sent the letters Monday to Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao and
Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of the U.S. Citizen and Immigration
Service in the Department of Homeland Security, and included copies of
the newspaper series.
In its investigation, the newspaper cited government audits going
back a decade that raised concerns about the Department of Labor’s role
in the foreign-labor certification process for the H1B visa program.
The investigation showed that the department performed very little
oversight of the program, and was seen as merely a “rubber stamp” by
its own inspector general.

The newspaper found that dozens of high-tech staffing companies
opened tiny offices or leased cubicles in Maine and other rural states
in 2004 and early 2005 and filed immigration papers for thousands of
foreigners who were supposed to work here. In many cases, the
companies’ connection to Maine was tenuous. In several instances,
landlords had never heard of the companies that called their buildings
home on federal applications.

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