By Deepa Seetharaman, Sadie Gurman and Michelle Hackman 

The Trump administration has sued Facebook Inc., accusing the social-media company of illegally reserving high-paying jobs for immigrant workers it was sponsoring for permanent residence, rather than searching adequately for available U.S. workers who could fill the positions.

In a 17-page complaint filed Thursday, the Justice Department's civil-rights division said Facebook inadequately advertised at least 2,600 positions between 2018 and 2019 that were filled by immigrants on H-1B high-skill visas when the company was applying to sponsor those workers for permanent residency, known as green cards.

Companies sponsoring workers for employment-based green cards are required to show as part of the federal application process that they couldn't find any qualified American workers to fill the job.

The suit said Facebook didn't advertise the reserved positions on its website and required candidates to mail in their applications rather than accepting them online.

"And even when U.S. workers do apply, Facebook will not consider them for the advertised positions," the suit alleges. "Simply put, Facebook reserves these positions for temporary visa holders."

"Facebook has been cooperating with the DOJ in its review of this issue and while we dispute the allegations in the complaint, we cannot comment further on pending litigation," a company spokesman said.

The lawsuit reflects long-running tensions between Silicon Valley and the Trump administration over the use of foreign workers in key technology roles.

The Trump administration has viewed the H-1B visa program for foreign professionals -- the primary pathway international graduates of U.S. colleges remain in the U.S. -- with antagonism, believing that employers are displacing American workers with foreign staffers who demand smaller salaries. Administration officials point to several high-profile incidents in which companies have laid off their in-house information technology staff, opting instead to hire contractors who employ H-1B visa workers primarily from India.

Silicon Valley companies and trade groups have succeeded at striking down recent immigration policies in the courts such as the temporary ban on H-1B visas, restrictions on international students and an Obama administration program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that protects immigrants living in the U.S. since childhood without legal permission.

Tech companies like Facebook rely on H-1B visas to plug gaps in their technical workforce, which they say is essential to building the software that powers products like the Facebook news feed. Tech executives have repeatedly said there aren't enough American students graduating with science and engineering degrees to meet their demand, a problem they say is only worsening as companies' products grow more complex and reliant on advanced technology like artificial intelligence.

The U.S. unemployment rate for people in computer professions was 3% in October, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the National Foundation for American Policy. The national unemployment rate that month was 6.9%.

Justice Department officials said their investigation kicked off when Facebook filed an application with the Labor Department to hire a foreign worker as an art director, a role that requires a bachelor's degree and two years of experience. The officials said Facebook should have been able to find an American to fill this type of job. Other positions included a number of software jobs as well as nontechnical positions.

U.S. immigration laws set strict requirements for companies looking to apply for green cards on behalf of their employees. They must advertise the job with a state workforce agency as well as in the Sunday edition of a newspaper, among several other requirements. Companies aren't specifically required to post a job opening on their websites.

If a qualified American worker comes forward, the company is required to interview that person, and the green-card application process can't move forward.

"This is a new tactic under the guise of protecting American workers," said Jesse Bless, a former Justice Department official who is now director of federal litigation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Normally the government would seek to work or settle with a company before suing them, he said. "It tells me that, since they took this route, they are trying to set an example."

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at, Sadie Gurman at and Michelle Hackman at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 03, 2020 15:58 ET (20:58 GMT)

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