Shortly after wrapping up a college degree at a U.S. university, Korean-born Seo applied for an H-1B visa so he could work legally in the U.S. as a finance expert at a Korean bank in Los Angeles. Despite following all the proper protocols, Seo was the subject of a recent surprise visit by an immigration officer to his bank — a visit that came while Seo just happened to be away on a business trip to New York.
The immigration officer from Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) not only meticulously confirmed Seo’s Labor Condition Application(LCA), salary record and prevailing wage documents, but also interrogated his colleagues at the bank about the purpose and frequency of Seo’s business trips and whether he also worked in other locations.
“I was just on a business trip, but I heard that the officer asked questions as if I was working somewhere else,” he sighed. “It’s getting more and more difficult to work in the U.S. with a foreign nationality.”
Kim, another Korean national who earned his college degree in the U.S. and is currently working as a director at an academic institute in Orange County, had a similar experience. “I am perfectly legal to work with the H-visa. But since I’m in my 50s, I think the immigration office wanted to know if the purpose of my working at the institute had to do with my children’s education,” he said.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently stepped up their job-site observations, putting individuals and sponsor companies with certain work visas (H-Visas and R-Visas) under extra scrutiny.
According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on June 4th, USCIS added 800 additional immigration officers to their FDNS department on June 4th. The officers are expected to conduct extensive inspections of employers and individual visa applicants by directly visiting job sites.
In the past, immigration authorities focused their observation on companies with less than $10 million dollars of profit or less than 25 employees. Recently, however, they’ve begun conducting on-the-spot observations, regardless of the size of the company or the profile of the applicant.
In fact, the immigration office has inspected 15,648 H-visa sponsors and 7,556 religious organizations, for a total of 23,204 inspections in 2011 alone. That number is double their total from 2009-2010.
According to AILA lawyers, the immigration officers review the documents of the target applicant before personally inspecting the employers and the applicants on the spot, to confirm the authenticity of their documents. The officers are also looking to see that employers are abiding by current wage and labor laws.
If the information written on the visa application turns out to be untrue, not only will the visa be made invalid but the applicant will be subject to criminal penalties.