Inside Infosys's Alleged Illegal Visa Practices

It's one thing to visit the United States to negotiate a business deal or participate in training and company meetings. Thousands of people do this every year, many using a B-1 visa to gain entry -- and it's hardly worth noticing. Or is it? A lawsuit by an Infosys employee alleges that the giant Indian outsourcer is committing fraud by using the temporary visas to import foreign workers who would normally have to be admitted under the more more stringent, and often-abused, H-1B visa program.

Jack Palmer, a 43-year-old IT pro in Lowndes County, Ala., filed the suit, claiming that he was disciplined and ostracized after declining to write fraudulent letters in support of visa applicants who were really planning to work in the United States for Infosys.

[ The H-1B visa program isn't going away, either, Bill Snyder reminds us. | Keep up to date on the key tech industry insights with InfoWorld's Industry Standard newsletter. ]

Palmer's charges are ugly. If they prove to be true, one of India's most important and respected companies will have been exposed for engaging in a pattern of deliberate fraud and tax evasion, all while thumbing its nose at laws designed to protect American workers.

Yes, that's outrageous, but there's more disturbing news this week about the use of foreign tech workers to undermine wages and working conditions. I've seen ads by two companies -- Newt Global of Texas and Digital-X of Sunnyvale, Calif. -- that are hosting job fairs in India to recruit workers to come to the United States on H-1B visas.

The job market is showing signs of improvement, in Silicon Valley at least, but with tens of thousands of IT workers still looking for work, recruiting foreign workers makes no sense at all. Still, it's not surprising.

American firms are doing all they can to squeeze costs, and the H-1Bs, designed to alleviate a labor shortage that no longer exists, are a tool to that end. What's so startling about Palmer's case is that Infosys is allegedly going a step further by using a visa that was never intended to bring workers into the country.

Before I go further, let me say that I do not -- and you should not -- blame the workers from India and other countries who seek those visas. Like us, they want good jobs and a better life for their families.

Infosys wavering in response
Earlier this month, Infosys essentially denied Palmer's accusations, saying:

While it is our policy not to comment on pending litigation, I can tell you that we stand by our 30-year legacy of transparency and integrity in every area of our business, a legacy that has earned Infosys respect from our clients, employees, shareholders and the communities where we do business.

The company's response to my query this week was somewhat different:

I have no idea why Infosys sounds less certain that the allegations are untrue, but the shift in tone is interesting.

How to beat the system
The heart of Palmer's complaint involves the allegation that "Infosys was sending lower level and unskilled foreigners to the United States" to work in full-time positions. He also claims that Infosys was paying them in India for full-time work in the United States without withholding federal or state income taxes.

According to the suit, an American employee of Infosys had to write a so-called welcome letter stating that the employee was coming to the United States for meetings rather than to hold down a job. The letter was needed to help the employees obtain B-1 visas. Palmer was asked to write them, but declined because the claims in the letter appeared untrue.

Palmer's attorney, Kenneth Mendelsohn, sent me a copy of a sample welcome letter and a list of "dos and don'ts" he says were posted on an internal Infosys site. He also sent them to journalist Dan Rather, the former CBS anchor, who posted them online.

I can't confirm that these documents are genuine, but Mendelsohn, whose credibility would be destroyed if he deliberately circulated a false document, assures me that they are. You'll notice that the documents are rife with grammatical errors; it was part of Palmer's job to clean them up, Mendelsohn said. Here are a few of the points listed in the guidelines:

* "Kindly make sure that the duration of the trip mentioned in the invite letter should not exceed BEYOND 4-6 weeks at any point of time"

* "Do not mention activities like implementation, design & testing, consulting etc., which sound like work."

* "Also do not use words like work, activity, etc., in the invitation letter."

* "Please do not mention anything about the contract rates as your [sic] on a B-1 Visa"

After raising objections to the letters and reporting his concerns to the company's "Whistleblower Team," Palmer says he was called on the carpet, subject to ugly, harassing phone calls, and deprived of various bonuses and overtime pay. He is, however, still employed by Infosys and his suit is starting to move through the courts.

Meanwhile, there is pressure on Congress to re-examine the visa issue. If you care about the issue -- and if you work in IT, you should -- let your representative know what you think.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net. Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "Inside Infosys's alleged illegal visa practices," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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