More Troubles for H-1B Users: A Roundup of Enforcement News

It is refreshing to see H-1B users being monitored by various sets of authorities; this is one or our periodic round-ups of H-1B news. (See here for an earlier one.)

While H-1B users routinely get away with little or no monitoring, as they operate under a very loose federal law, today we have four reports of at least some surveillance: one from overseas, two from the federal courts, and a disappointing one regarding the U.S. Labor Department, plus a mention of the use of H-1B visas by a group of Turkish charter schools in the U.S.

The H-1B program allows U.S. employers to bring high-tech and other workers from overseas to work for extended periods as nonimmigrants; K-12 teachers, academics, and high-fashion models are also included. The program operates with no regard to the extent of unemployment in this country, many resident workers lose their jobs thereby, and many of the foreign workers are badly treated. The exploited aliens are often done in by their own countrymen, often in connivance with the workers' U.S. employers.

Overseas

The best news comes from what I would regard as the least likely place, the Philippines.

As background, one of the growing uses of the H-1B program is in the field of K-12 education, and many of the teachers recruited for these jobs are from the Philippines, a subject covered in a recent CIS Web-only Memorandum "H-1B + K-12 = ?".

A recent article in Asian Journal, a publication for Filipinos in the U.S., told of the excessive charges laid on Filipino teachers in Louisiana and the resulting action of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), apparently an arm of the national government. POEA cancelled the license of PARS, the entity that had recruited teachers for various Louisiana school systems, and (illegally) charged each of the teachers $16,000 placement fees, among other violations.

PARS not only lost its license, it was told to pay $4,500 to $7,200 to each of the teachers who had sued the agency, piddling sums to be sure, but few Third World governments do anything to help their emigrant workers in such situations.

A little earlier, back in the States, a Louisiana court affirmed a still earlier state government decision ordering PARS' American affiliate, Universal Placement International, and its owner Lourdes "Lulu" Navarro, to pay $1.8 million in back pay to a group of 200 of these nonimmigrant teachers. That decision was reported by a different Filipino news agency.

Whether any of the teachers will collect a dime from Ms. Navarro, identified in these articles as a "convicted felon" who had been charged with "ripping off the Medi-Cal program in California to the tune of $1 million," is not known.

None of these accounts mention any actions by any U.S. executive branch agency; just the decisions of the government in Manila, a state court in Louisiana, the state government there, and a suit against Navarro on behalf of the teachers by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

U.S. District Court, Texas

While Ms. Navarro is a relatively small-time crooked operator within the H-1B program, the H-1B employer entangled with the federal courts in the Eastern District of Texas was the single largest user of H-1B visas during FY 2010, according to an article in Computerworld. Infosys Technology, a placement agency or bodyshop, had secured 3,800 visas last year.

As part of a developing investigation in Infosys' controversial use of B-1 (visitors for business) visas the Federal Court's Grand Jury, according to India's Economic Times, issued a subpoena for certain documents related to that practice. B-1s are not supposed to be paid in the U.S. for their work in this country, but may be paid at home for work they do outside their home country. Infosys is in the middle of a suit filed by a whistle-blower, Jack Palmer, who said that the firm was using B-1 visas instead of H-1B visas to get around the minimal labor standards involved with the former visa.

U.S. District Court, New Jersey

Infosys's lawyers are also playing defense in Newark, N.J., where an American IT professional found himself denied a job by the firm not because he did not have enough experience but because he had too much experience in his profession (i.e., he was too old for the Infosys taste.)

This is one of those instances in which the Klutz Factor plays a role; Infosys had run an ad in which there was a "maximum experience" element; if you had too much time in the field they did not want to hire you, and they said so. (They probably will take that out of their ads in the future.)

The citizen worker, Ralph DeVito, first went to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on an age-discrimination charge; that entity ruled that he had a grounds for suing Infosys, and that process is now well underway in the U.S. district court. The suit is valued at more than $75,000. If you have access to PACER, the federal courts' e-reporting system, you can follow the case at 2:11-cv-01025-WJM -MF.

U.S. Department of Labor

So far, we have seen in this blog the governments of the Philippines and Louisiana, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and three separate courts doing the right thing regarding the abuses of nonimmigrant worker programs, so it is with regret that I note that the Department of Labor (where I once toiled) largely caved at the end of its case against Vision Systems Group, a large New Jersey user of H-1Bs.

The headline in Computerworld tells it all:

Troubled H-1B fraud case ends quietly
Vision Systems to pay far less than the $7.4 million in restitution sought by the US; sentenced to three years probation.

The brothers Mandalapu, Viswa, and Chandra also paid "special assessments" of $100 each and paid "restitution of $236,250 to the USCIS." It was not clear from the article whether those funds went to former workers or to the government; one does not normally pay restitution to the government, one pays fines or penalties.

Their defense attorney said "Vision Systems is not in business in its previous form and the assets have been sold." One wonders what that really means.

The government's case against Vision apparently had been damaged by a court ruling that the government had conducted "overly inclusive" electronic searches.

Although Computerworld did not touch on this angle, given the names of the employers (which sound Indian) and the large number of Indian high-tech workers on H-1B visas generally, one can only assume that in this case, as with the Filipino teachers, it was a situation in which one small group of migrants exploited a larger group of their own countrymen – as so often is the case.

Note: The Department of Labor is mentioned, in passing, in a story in this morning's New York Times investigating the heavy use of H-1B visas by the charter schools funded by local taxpayers and controlled by Turkish interests in the Gulen movement. The Times account of the schools, which starts on the front page, is largely about other issues, such as the steering of school construction contracts to Turkish firms, but it does have these paragraphs about the use of the H-1B program:

...some teachers and their unions, as well as immigration experts, have questioned how earnestly the schools worked to recruit American workers. They say that loopholes have made it easy bring in workers with relatively ordinary skills who substitute for American workers....

"I think they have a preference for these H-1B workers," said Dr. Ronil Hira, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who has studied the visa program. "It may be a preference for a variety of reasons – lower wages or a network where they've got family or friends and connections and this is a stepping stone for them to get a green card..."

American consular employees reviewing visas have questioned the credentials of some teachers as they sought to enter the country. "Most applicants had no prior teaching experience, and the schools [from which they graduated] were listed as related to" Mr. Gulen, a consular employee wrote in a 2009 cable... Some with dubious credentials were denied visas...

The last paragraph reflects the fact that the Times had access to the massive Wikileaks files of State Department documents, a few of which touched on the Gulen movement and the charter schools.