The Department of Justice settled with a Lockport, Louisiana-based realty firm called Barrios Street Realty Inc. following allegations that the company discriminated against U.S. citizens in favor of foreign employees with H-2B visas, according to a pres release from the agency.
H-1B and H-2B visas have become a recurring topic through the presidential election cycle. There are claims that these visas are being used by companies that prefer to hire foreign individuals in the U.S. temporarily over citizens. For at least one company, the settlement seems to confirm those allegations. The settlement between Barrios Street Realty and the DOJ concluded that the realty firm and its agent, Jorge Arturo Guerrero Rodriguez, preferred to hire non-citizens through the H-2B visa program.
Both H-1B and H-2B visas allow foreign individuals to work in the U.S. for a given period of time. Both are temporary, though the former may lead to green card status should the company choose to sponsor the employee. The difference between the two is the skill level required for the position being filled. H-1B visas were developed for high-skill positions such as scientists, mathematicians and architects. H-2B visas are designed for non-agricultural jobs with lower skill levels.
DOJ finds Barrios Street Realty discriminated against U.S. citizens
A DOJ investigation into Barrios Street Realty's hiring practices determined that in July 2014, the company and Guerrero Rodriguez improperly failed to consider or rejected 73 U.S. citizens, according to a DOJ press release. The firm then advertised those same positions to foreign individuals. The law requires that U.S. job candidates receive priority over H-1B and H-2B visa-holders. The DOJ found that the company's application to hire H-2B visa-holders falsely claimed that previous attempts to hire U.S. citizens had fell through because it couldn't identify candidates.
"The company will pay a $30,000 civil penalty."
"Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against U.S. workers in hiring," Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, said in the press release. "The department is committed to identifying and combating discriminatory hiring preferences that impede the ability of U.S. workers to compete equally for employment."
Settlement calls for back pay fund and civil penalty
The settlement requires Barrios Street Realty to set up a $115,000 back pay fund to compensate U.S. citizens who lost out on potential jobs due to the realty firm's preference for H-2B visa-holders. The company will also be required to pay a $30,000 civil penalty to the U.S. government. The realty firm will be subject to monitoring of its hiring practices for up to three years as well. It also seems as though Barrios Street Realty won't be seeking job candidates through the H-2B visa program anytime soon. In fact, the DOJ settlement includes the first ever voluntary debarrment from the program. The company will be barred from seeking any sort of non-immigrant visa employees through the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration for three years.
Like Form I-9 and E-Verify violations, H-1B and H-2B visa noncompliance can lead to costly settlements with the DOJ. It is best to avoid any sort of violation through training and education, self-audits and compliance assistance services.