In March 2011, a month after Infosys whistleblower Jay Palmer filed a harassment and retaliation lawsuit that exposed alleged rampant visa fraud and abuse on the part of the Indian IT services provider, I wrote my second post about the case. It was titled, “H-1B Visa Fraud Case Against Infosys May Be a Game Changer.”
That case, as people all over the world now know, revealed for the first time how Infosys was allegedly sending workers to the United States on cheaper, more easily secured B-1 visas to perform work that was supposed to be performed by workers on H-1B visas due to their “specialized talent.” Two-and-a-half years later, Infosys would pay $34 million to the United States government to settle an investigation, sparked by Palmer’s lawsuit, that federal authorities say showed Infosys had engaged in “systemic visa fraud and abuse of immigration processes.”
I opened that post with a hunch: “The lid just might be blown off the H-1B visa abuse problem by a couple of good ol' boys from Alabama. I can't say for sure, but I think the you-know-what is going to hit the fan.” I was referring to Palmer and to his attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn, who filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Alabama.
“I'm just a street lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama,” Mendelsohn told me at the time. “I can't solve all the world's problems, and I can't really force a whole lot of changes with this lawsuit.”
“I'm not so sure about that,” I wrote in that post. “I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this case turns out to be a game changer. Hopefully, it will prompt a federal investigation of Infosys, sooner rather than later, and compel other H-1B visa abusers to clean up their acts.”
It turned out the case did, indeed, prompt a federal investigation. But as the dust settles in the aftermath of last week’s settlement—the largest monetary settlement of an immigration-related case in U.S. history—we’re left with the question that begs to be answered: Was this case, indeed, a game changer?
Brian Gray, a group supervisor in the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit and head of the Document Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF) that conducted the investigation, said there’s no question about it. He highlighted how the case has educated the federal government.
“We hope this will serve as a model for the other DBFTFs to follow, because this was kind of new territory for us to go through, and it was an educational process along the way,” Gray said. “We foresee that this will aid in the training of our customs and border protection counterparts there at the ports of entry, the consulates overseas that are issuing the visas, and educate them on how this matter started, and maybe what to look for.”
Ed Koranda, the DHS special agent who teamed with Department of State special agent Tim Forte to carry out the investigation in the trenches, said changing the game was his goal all along.
“I hope the success of this investigation will encourage other U.S. Attorney’s Offices to take these things on, because it does require, like Brian said, a great learning curve, and sometimes it’s a little intimidating,” Koranda said. “So I hope the fact that this was a success breeds other investigations.”
According to David Marwell, HSI special agent in charge in the Dallas Field Office, which oversaw the investigation, it already has.
“We are looking at other companies,” Marwell said. “This case has taken us in other directions. And there are other, what we call ‘spinoff’ cases, which we’re following up on. … We want other companies like Infosys to be on notice that we will be looking, and with proper predication and proper information, we will investigate practices and hold other companies that are doing this same sort of thing accountable.”
“I think it’s a game changer in a few respects,” Marwell added. “I think you know as well as we know that a lot of folks knew about this, and certainly those in the IT industry were very well aware of what was going on. They were sitting, watching, waiting to see what sort of action all this would yield. So I think from an overarching perspective, a strong deterrent message is being sent. If for no other reason, I think that makes it a game changer.”