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3 Dec, 2020 20:58

21st century indentured servitude? Justice Dept sues Facebook for ‘discriminating against US workers’ by hiring H-1B visa holders

21st century indentured servitude? Justice Dept sues Facebook for ‘discriminating against US workers’ by hiring H-1B visa holders

Facebook has been accused of systematically discriminating against US citizens in a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department, which charged the tech behemoth with prioritizing company-sponsored temp visa holders for 2,600 posts.

The social media platform “intentionally created” a biased hiring system in which temporary visa holders – immigrant workers Facebook “wanted to sponsor for green cards” – were given preference over “qualified US workers,” according to a press release from the Justice Department published on Thursday. The department has filed a lawsuit demanding back pay for Americans who were unable to secure a job at Facebook due to its supposedly discriminatory behavior.

The agency spent two years probing Facebook’s hiring practices and claims that the company shut out qualified and capable US citizens for at least 2,600 positions, according to Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband. “Our message to all employers – including those in the technology sector – is clear: you cannot illegally prefer to recruit, consider, or hire temporary visa holders over U.S. workers,” he said.

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The DoJ is seeking civil penalties, “back pay on behalf of US workers denied employment at Facebook” due to the alleged discrimination, and “other relief to ensure Facebook stops the alleged violations.

The discriminatory hiring practices persisted from the start of 2018 through September 18, 2019, according to the suit. To help ensure Americans did not apply for the positions in question, Facebook reportedly avoided posting the job openings on its careers website, limited applications to physical mail only, and flat-out refused to consider applications sent in by US citizens.

Such rank discrimination “dissuaded US workers” to such an extent that for 99.7 percent of the positions for which immigrants sponsored under the permanent labor certification process (PERM) were favored, one or fewer US workers applied. For a typical position advertised on Facebook’s careers page, over 100 applicants submit their resumes.

The suit points out that such discriminatory hiring processes don’t just hurt US citizens, but also trap sponsored visa-holders in their jobs, since they would lose their authorization to stay in the country should they quit or be fired before they’ve secured a green card. The PERM process allows employers in the US to sponsor temporary visa holders and offer them permanent residency, but only if the company demonstrates there are no qualified and available US citizens willing to fill the position in question.

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The DoJ accused Facebook of intentional and widespread discrimination that also violates the Immigration and Nationality Act, which forbids American companies to discriminate in hiring based on national origin and citizenship status or threaten non-citizen employees with retaliation based on their immigration status.

Megacorporations like Facebook have learned sponsoring H1-B immigrants is an ideal shortcut to employee loyalty, given the time and effort required to parlay an employer-sponsored visa into permanent residency – as long as decades, according to the DoJ. Some 65 percent of H1-B visas are for “computer-related occupations,” according to Fortune, and along with Facebook, Google and Amazon are the largest of the program’s sponsors. The Trump administration issued an executive order in June suspending new H1-B visas through the end of the year.

Facebook denied the lawsuit’s allegations in a statement on Thursday while claiming it has been “cooperating with the DoJ.” 

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