Reading Time: 2 minutes

The temporary foreign worker program, known as the H—1B visa, allows educated workers in specialty occupations to work in the United States for up to three years. An analysis by the Government Accountability Office reveals burdensome fees and paperwork, a rigid lottery system preventing companies from hiring top candidates, and fraudulent or ineligible applications.

The cap for the foreign worker program is set at 65,000 but the GAO report found that the demand for workers exceeded the limit almost every year. Once the cap is met, companies can submit an application for a foreign worker in a lottery system, but it does not allow companies to give any priority to the candidates they need or want most.

The GAO study found that large companies familiar with navigating the immigration system were able to get around the visa cap to hire a preferred candidate. Smaller firms were more likely to fill positions with second—choice candidates, sometimes resulting in delays or economic losses. Information technology firms were most severely hurt by delays, and they said the visa cap spurred them to conduct their research and development projects abroad.

The Department of Homeland Security struggles to obtain accurate numbers on workers admitted through the program every year, along with the number who stay once their visa is over. “Lack of information on the total H—1B workforce makes it impossible to understand the long—term impact and leaves the program vulnerable to fraud and abuse,” the report said.

DHS reported that 21 percent of petitions examined involved fraud or violations of eligibility, such as forged signatures, businesses and colleges that did not exist.

Companies hiring foreign workers through the program face a variety of legal and administrative costs, along with DHS fees. The costs range from $2,320 to $7,500 per petition.

FAST FACT: The top occupations for foreign workers admitted through the program are computer analysts and programmers, electrical engineers, and university professors. The majority of the workers come from four countries: India, China, Canada and the Philippines.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities.


  • The IRS attributes $148 billion, or 43 percent, of the tax gap to unreported income earned by small businesses or self—employed people. The agency is attempting to improve levels of tax compliance, but needs to better identify the needs and preferences of the 57 million taxpayers who fall into the small business/self-employed group. (TIGTA)

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.