New Wrinkle in H-1B Fraud: Stealing from the Taxpayers, Not the Workers

While the abuse of immigration systems is as old as national borders, there are creative new types of fraud (at least new to me) that pop up from time to time.

One of the typical frauds in foreign worker programs is that the worker is charged for fees that should be paid by the employer. Recently the school board in Prince George's County, Md., adjacent to Washington, D.C., was caught, as we recorded in a blog, doing exactly that to its overseas school teachers brought to this country under the H-1B program.

Plenty of private sector employers have been guilty of the same charge, with workers arriving at their new jobs, in the new country, deep in debt to exploitative middle-men.

This week's new wrinkle, the flip side of the above and also within a school system, emerged to embarrass another controversial user of the H-1B program, a subject of our CIS memorandum entitled "H1B = K-12 = ?; A First Look at the Implications of Foreign Teacher Recruitment".

The school system in this instance is affiliated with the Gulen Schools, a loose confederation of charter schools put together by some Turkish educators/entrepreneurs; such schools are funded by local boards of education, using money that 20 years ago went to public schools. The employer in question is Horizon Science Academies, an Ohio entity, that runs charter schools in several Ohio cities.

What Horizon had done that aroused the interest of state auditors was not so much bringing in foreign workers when unemployed American teachers are numerous, but rather paying immigration fees for families of the Turkish teachers imported by the charter schools. Paying fees for the teachers with tax funds, the auditors ruled, was OK, but not fees for their family members.

The auditors, according to a WEWS-TV news broadcast, demanded that some $13,000 in such fees be repaid and they were.

The broadcast, from the Cleveland station, apparently set in motion days later, according to a report in the Columbus Dispatch, a U.S. Labor Department investigation into the use of H-1B program in this connection. The department told the newspaper that it does not comment on whether or not it is doing an investigation.

The Dispatch copy desk, apparently not used to dealing with immigration stories, provided this headline:

Feds Question school's visa use / Federal funds used to pay for teachers' families

I suspect that they meant "tax funds" not "federal funds." The federal problem is probably the misuse of the visa system, not federal moneys.

The glacial progress of many immigration fraud investigations was, sadly, again demonstrated in this case. According to the Dispatch story the inappropriate fees were noted in local audits in 2001 and 2005; by 2007 the money had been repaid, but the DOL investigation did not begin until a full decade had passed.

What the Dispatch did not report, and CIS did in the Memorandum mentioned above, was that in FY 2010 Horizon obtained 71 H-1B visas for its Ohio schools from the Department of Labor, of which six were to teach Turkish at the high school level. CIS knows of no public high schools where that language is offered, and wonders if there is any genuine public demand for its teaching.

Perhaps the Department of Labor investigators will raise that question in the next few weeks; it would be helpful to know to what extent Turkish language classes are, in fact, offered, and, if offered, the size of the classes.

Perhaps Horizon has found in the loosely administered H-1B and charter school programs an opportunity to bring its friends and countrymen to this country at the expense of local taxpayers.

Unfortunately, the more basic question – why bring teachers from overseas when there are plenty of unemployed resident school teachers? – has been taken off the table by the Congress of the United States, because of the way it has shaped the H-1B program.