"The program is not intended to replace qualified American workers." -- U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (pictured)

As economic troubles lead to corporate layoffs, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa says he wants to ensure that American workers are given priority over guest workers employed under the H-1B visa program. The purpose of the H-1B program is to help companies hire foreign guest workers on a temporary basis when the American workforce is insufficient to meet those needs, said Grassley's office in a release.

Grassley, who in 2007 co-sponsored legislation to exert tighter controls over H-1B visas, last week sent a letter to Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer urging the company to retain qualified American workers during the recently announced layoffs.

"Microsoft employs thousands of people through the H-1B visa program," said Grassley in the letter. "However, the program is not intended to replace qualified American workers."

According to Grassley, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released an internal report last October that found the H-1B program has more than a 20 percent violation rate. The fraud identified in the report included jobs not located where employers claimed, H-1B visa holders not being paid the prevailing wage, forged documents, fraudulent degrees, and shell businesses. In one instance the H-1B position described by the employer was "business development analyst." However, it turned out that the H-1B visa holder would be working at a laundromat doing laundry and maintaining washing machines.

Wayne Hanson  |  Senior Executive Editor, Center For Digital Government