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Facebook accused by Trump administration of H-1B visa abuse

The complaint reflects the pressure President Donald Trump is keeping on social media giants even in the waning days of his administration.

FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is displayed on a mobile phone in this picture illustration taken December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Illustration/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is displayed on a mobile phone in this picture illustration taken December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Illustration/File Photo (REUTERS)

The Trump administration claims Facebook Inc. is discriminating against U.S. workers by designating thousands of positions for foreigners with temporary H-1B visas.

The company “refused to recruit, consider, or hire qualified and available U.S. workers for over 2,600 positions” and instead reserved the jobs -- with an average salary of $156,000 -- to non-citizens that it sponsored for permanent work authorizations with green cards, according a statement issued Thursday by the civil rights division of the Justice Department.

The complaint reflects the pressure President Donald Trump is keeping on social media giants even in the waning days of his administration. It comes after judges have blocked efforts by the administration to halt access to several types of employment-based visas, part of Trump’s broader agenda to prioritize filling positions at U.S. companies with Americans.

The administration is also moving to curtail legal protections for internet platforms amid complaints by the president and other Republicans that Facebook, Twitter and Google engage in censorship targeting conservative viewpoints.

Facebook said it has been cooperating with the Justice Department.

“While we dispute the allegations in the complaint, we cannot comment further on pending litigation,” the company said in a statement.

Read More: Trump Cracks Down on Visa Program That Feeds Silicon Valley

Ron Hira, an associate professor Howard University who’s done extensive research on H-1B visa issues, said Trump is cracking down on visa abuse more aggressively than the Obama administration did. “Those who have been tracking it have been disappointed that he didn’t do it quicker,” he said.

Hira noted a statistic in the government’s complaint that the Facebook positions at issue typically drew zero or one U.S. applicants, while comparable jobs advertised on its careers website got 100 or more applications.

“U.S. workers want these jobs,” he said. “The fact there’s only one or zero applications would be pretty shocking.”

Instead of suing Facebook in federal court, the Justice Department lodged a complaint with its own Executive Office of Immigration Review, where it will be reviewed by an administrative law judge. The director of the office is appointed by the U.S. attorney general.

The case is part of a 2017 initiative by the department targeting companies that discriminate against U.S. workers, according to the department’s statement. The department has reached settlements totaling more than $1.2 million with about 10 employers, including a Florida strawberry farm, a Texas bus company, a California IT staffing firm and a Colorado agricultural products supplier.

Read More: Apple to Amazon Line Up Against Trump’s Immigrant Visa Ban

Facebook, one of dozens of tech companies that lined up in court against Trump’s visa restrictions, stands out as much bigger than the typical targets of enforcement actions under the Justice Department’s Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative.

“Facebook engaged in intentional and widespread violations of the law, by setting aside positions for temporary visa holders instead of considering interested and qualified U.S. workers,” Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband said in the statement.

The Justice Department seeks an order compelling Facebook to change its practices as well as civil penalties plus back pay, including interest, for workers who were discriminated against, according to the complaint.

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