Just a month after six people were indicted by a U.S. District Court in Texas on multiple charges related to H-1B visa fraud, a businessman in Silicon Valley last week was indicted on 19 counts of H-1B visa fraud following a multi-agency U.S. government investigation. The government’s crackdown on H-1B visa abuse is being accompanied by increased scrutiny of that abuse by the mainstream media, most recently in the form of a Boston Globe column that proclaimed that “outsourcers have hijacked the H-1B program.”
The Silicon Valley businessman, Balakrishnan Patwardhan, is accused of filing fraudulent documents with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to secure H-1B visas for 19 technology workers from India. According to a press release issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, the indictment alleges that Patwardhan filed the documents under the pretense that the 19 Indian workers had job offers from an employer in the United States, when he knew that no such offers existed. This practice of “benching”—illegally bringing in foreign workers on H-1B visas without legitimate job offers as a means of maintaining a bench of employees with which to fill job vacancies when they arise—is the same practice that was allegedly performed by Dibon Solutions, the IT consulting company involved in the case of the six people in Texas who were indicted a month ago.
The intense, systematic approach being taken by the U.S. government to hold abusers of the H-1B visa program accountable for their actions is highlighted by the multi-agency cooperation that characterizes the effort. The investigation of Patwardhan, for example, was led by the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service's representative to the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, a multi-agency group headed by the Homeland Security Investigations unit of ICE. According to the press release, USCIS's Office of Fraud Detection and National Security was also a key player in the investigation. For what it’s worth, this is the same type of multi-agency investigation that was sparked by Jay Palmer’s whistleblower report of alleged visa and tax fraud at Infosys. The results of that investigation are imminent.
Meanwhile, the winds of change are also evident in the mainstream media’s better-late-than-never coverage of what for years has been wanton abuse of the H-1B visa program. Of particular note is an excellent March 31 column by Farah Stockman of the Boston Globe, with a sub-headline that captured the essence of the issue masterfully: “Hyped as source of tech talent, H-1B visas usher in cheap replacements for US workers.” Here’s an excerpt from the column:
I am not a nativist. Immigration makes this country strong. But let’s dispense with the fiction that all temporary workers are living the American dream and doing work that Americans can’t do. H-1Bs should be for companies that want highly skilled foreigners to work for them, not for factory farms of entry-level laborers leased out to the highest bidder. We can’t allow them to make it impossible for firms that hire Americans to compete. What if, instead of increasing the number of H-1B visas, we gave citizenship more quickly to more highly skilled people? And what if, instead of harping on how unqualified Americans are for these jobs, we celebrated companies that train and hire Americans?
It seems just about every article on this topic refers to the Palmer case, and the Boston Globe piece was no exception:
While some temporary workers might be magical geniuses capable of saving the US economy, many are not. Jay Palmer, principal consultant for Infosys, describes in court documents how the company brought workers straight from school — “freshers” — who needed months, if not years, to get up to speed. Some were being paid in rupees sent to Indian bank accounts, according to Palmer’s lawyer, Kenneth Mendelsohn. He said they survived on a stipend paid through a debit card, as they worked for the oil-field services firm Baker Hughes in Texas. “Six or eight Indians were living in a two-bedroom apartment.”
When I started covering the Palmer case two years ago, I called it a “game changer.” It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the game has indeed changed. And that the team of bad guys who are abusing the H-1B visa program is going to lose.