WASHINGTON, June 6 (Reuters) - The U.S. Labor Department said on Tuesday it is stepping up efforts to root out potential fraud in its visa programs for foreign workers, a move that will include increases in both civil investigations as well as criminal referrals.
The announcement by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta follows President Donald Trump in April ordering a review of the U.S. visa program as part of his "America First" campaign pledge.
The April executive order specifically entailed a review of the H-1B visa program, which is routinely used by technology firms like Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp and Infosys Ltd to bring skilled foreign workers, such as engineers and programmers, to jobs in the United States.
Critics of the program, including Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller, have argued that the laws governing these visas are lax and make it too easy for companies to replace U.S. workers with less-expensive foreign labor.
The U.S. Labor Department and Department of Homeland Security each play a role in reviewing the applications for foreign guest workers.
In April, Homeland Security said it was planning to take steps as well to prevent fraud in the H-1B visa program.
On Tuesday, the Labor Department said its new policy will be to "enforce vigorously all laws within its jurisdiction governing the administration and enforcement of non-immigrant visa programs."
The steps it will take include directing the department's wage and hour division to "use all its tools" to conduct civil probes. The department is also asking its employment and training office to work on proposing changes to the labor condition application that companies file when they seek to hire foreign guest workers.
In addition, the department will be more aggressive in making criminal referrals to its inspector general's office and create a new working group to better oversee and coordinate enforcement efforts.
“Entities who engage in visa program fraud and abuse are breaking our laws and are harming American workers, negatively affecting Americans’ ability to provide for themselves and their families," Acosta said in a statement.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Dan Grebler