Facebook finds itself in the crosshairs of the U.S. Justice Department, which has filed a lawsuit alleging that the social-networking giant abused the H-1B visa system.
In the 17-page complaint (full PDF text available here), the Justice Department alleges that, between 2018 and 2019, Facebook failed to properly advertise roughly 2,600 open jobs that it wanted to fill with H-1B workers. The average salary for these positions was $156,865. Legally, companies that hire H-1B workers must make every effort to hire a U.S. citizen first, which means advertising the position prominently via a number of channels.
“Facebook’s standard operating procedure beginning no later than January 1, 2018, and continuing until at least September 18, 2019, was to rely on less effective advertising methods, designed to deter applicants,” the lawsuit reads, “including declining to advertise the positions on Facebook.com/careers, when recruiting for bona fide, permanent, PERM-related positions, based on its preference to give the positions to temporary visa holders.”
In addition, the Justice Department suggests that Facebook subjected applicants to “more burdensome application requirements” that were “designed to deter applicants” in order to “give the positions to temporary visa holders.”
Facebook issued a simple statement in response to the federal government’s action: “While we dispute the allegations in the complaint, we cannot comment further on pending litigation.”
In an article in Bloomberg, Howard University associate professor Ron Hira pointed out how those inadequately-advertised positions only drew one U.S. applicant at most: “U.S. workers want these jobs… The fact there’s only one or zero applications would be pretty shocking.” Indeed, that seems artificially low at a time when any technology posting can draw dozens, even hundreds of applicants.
Over the past four years, the Trump administration has pursued a variety of actions designed to curtail use of the H-1B visa, which critics suggest is widely abused by companies seeking to hire cheaper workers. And for the most part, those initiatives have succeeded, at least if you go by the rapidly declining H-1B approval rate. Business services and consulting firms, which draw the bulk of accusations of underhanded visa practices, have been particularly hard-hit by these visa denials.
It hasn’t been until the last year of Trump’s term, however, that outright H-1B reform began to move forward. Over the summer, Trump issued a temporary ban on the H-1B and other visas (although that was shot down in court). That was followed by a sweeping Department of Labor (DOL) Interim Final Rule designed to recalibrate the system from the ground up, starting with the salaries that companies must pay their H-1B workers.
The big question now is whether a Biden administration will reverse many of these changes, or whether H-1Bs will remain curtailed in one form or another. The answer to that question could have a seismic effect on how tech firms hire in coming years.