US: H-1B workers outnumber unemployed techies

WASHINGTON -- As unemployment among tech workers increases with the recession, the U.S. government is raising broad questions as part of a federal case over H-1Bs about the connection of visa fraud to the unemployment of IT workers.

The government's interest in H-1B fraud-related unemployment turned up in court filings in a case in U.S. District Court in Iowa against a New Jersey IT firm, Visions Systems Group in South Plainfield, NJ, which was indicted in February on visa-related fraud charges.

Visions Systems was included in a sweep that . The government, in announcing its action, said the companies and people involved were "displacing qualified American workers," but didn't identify how many. In court papers filed last month, the U.S. indicated it may be getting ready to do just that.

The U.S. said it is "prepared to demonstrate to the court the manner in which the defendant's schemes, along with similar schemes by similar companies have substantially deprived U.S. citizens of employment." The government then points out that "in January of 2009, the total number of workers employed in the information technology occupation under the H-1B program substantially exceeded the 241,000 unemployed U.S. citizen workers within the same occupation."

The U.S. government's brief doesn't explain to what extent fraud is responsible for tech worker unemployment, or cite sources for its data. Estimates of the size of the tech labor force depend on what government labor categories are included.

One analysis by the TechServe Alliance (formerly the National Association of Computer Consultants), found that from December, after reaching a high 4.1 million in November.