The Department of Justice headquarters building in Washington.
The Department of Justice headquarters building in Washington.

WASHINGTON - A Texas-based passenger bus operator has reached an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to settle charges it discriminated against American job seekers by hiring temporary foreign drivers, the department announced Wednesday.

The settlement with El Expreso Bus Co. of Houston, Texas, is the sixth under the department's Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative, which investigates and penalizes employers that discriminate against qualified U.S. employees in favor of foreign guest workers.

In a statement, the Justice Department said its investigation of El Expreso found that the bus operator had turned down applications by U.S. workers and then petitioned for temporary visas for foreign drivers to fill the positions.

H-2B visa program

The H-2B visa program allows U.S. companies to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary, nonagricultural jobs, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Employers are required to consider recruiting qualified American job seekers before turning to foreign guest workers. El Expreso is accused of violating this requirement. 

Under the settlement, El Expreso has agreed to pay $31,500 in penalties, set aside $197,500 to compensate U.S. workers it refused to hire, and be subject to compliance monitoring by the Justice Department. 

The department said it has opened dozens of investigations under the Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative. As part of the probes, employers have agreed to pay or distribute nearly $1 million in penalties and back pay. 

"Employers cannot discriminate against qualified U.S. workers because they prefer to hire visa holders," Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. 

A phone call to a number listed on El Expreso's website went unanswered. The company provides intercity passenger bus service for several cities across the South and Southwest U.S.