n the wake of Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) settlement agreement involving H-1B wage violations, questions have been raised about the unfair effect this is having on the victims, the teachers who will be forced to leave their jobs and the United States once their H-1B time runs out.
As part of the settlement agreement, PG County schools are barred from filing H-1B and other employment-based petitions for two years, including extensions of existing H-1B workers. Once their H-1B time with PGCPS expires, these teachers will be out of a job and have to leave the United States unless they find another employer or other visa status.
It’s true. It’s not fair. The reason lies in the purpose of the visa regulations. H-1B and associated employment-based immigrant visa regulations, which include those of the Department of Labor and USCIS, were not created for the benefit of the foreign workers. Rather, the regulations were created for U.S. employers. These regulations enable U.S. employers to fill jobs that (per the theory of legislators) would otherwise go unfilled because insufficient numbers of qualified American workers (or other authorized workers) exist.
To prevent employers from using these regulations to undercut American workers, the regulations impose numerous obligations on employers. For H-1Bs, for example, the regulations set minimum wage requirements (known as the prevailing wage) for each job based on job type/skills and location, and prohibiting benching (the worker must be paid the required wage even if the employer has no project or work to be done). By imposing these obligations, the employer is discouraged from seeking foreign workers who it might be able to pay less for doing the job. These obligations also protect the foreign worker from exploitation, but is not their only purpose.
The process of obtaining an H-1B and associated green card has become sufficiently complicated, expensive and lengthy that it also serves as a de facto discouragement against hiring foreign workers.
With this in mind, the regulations impose penalties designed to punish the employer, such as fines and being barred from participating in the visa programs. They do not focus on remedies for the foreign worker. In the case of the PG County teachers, they are to be reimbursed the money they paid, but this order is less about refunding the teachers their wrongfully paid sums, and more about preventing the employer from benefiting from its violations, which it would if it were allowed to retain the money paid by the teachers.
As to the victimized teachers, the system is for the most part not concerned with their re-employment once their H-1B with the school expires. The H-1B visa is market driven, so the system lets the market decide their fate. Once their H-1B with PG County expires, the teachers can stay in the United States if they can find another employer or obtain some other visa status (e.g. student visa, marriage visa, etc.). From the system’s perspective, if the teacher does not find another H-1B employer, for example, then that must mean sufficient numbers of American workers exist, so a foreign worker is not needed to fill the job and must return home.
To prevent this unfair outcome, a change in the focus of immigration policy must happen. When the policy changes, the regulations will follow. If U.S. immigration policy concerns you, you can advocate for change by contacting Congress or volunteering to help immigration advocacy organizations, such as the American Immigration Council.
If your employer required you to pay for your H-1B fees or you have been benched or underpaid, you may have remedies available and should seek advice from a competent attorney.