When you're an unemployed IT worker whose job prospects have been hampered by everything from hiring freezes to age discrimination to H-1B visa abuse, it's a good day whenever you can find at least one thing to cheer about. Today is a good day.
Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau reported today that the Department of Labor finally caught up with Peri Software Solutions, a software services company in New Jersey that has made a mockery of the H-1B visa program for years. According to the DOL, Peri has cheated 163 H-1B visa holders out of $1.45 million in wages. If that's the case, Peri has cheated the U.S. IT workforce out of the same sum by underpaying the H-1B workers, thereby driving down IT wages.
My only complaint is that the DOL isn't demanding an adequately stiff penalty. It's seeking a civil fine of $439,000, and a two-year debarment from the H-1B visa program. That's nonsense.
Let's start with the fine. Less than half a million bucks is a paltry sum given the egregiousness of the offense and Peri's horrific reputation in providing decent employment conditions (Google the company and read some of the message boards with posts from current and former employees). A fair civil fine would be twice the sum of the underpayment to its employees-in this case, $2.9 million. And that sum shouldn't be lost in the bowels of the federal budget. It should be earmarked for job training programs for U.S workers.
And then there's the debarment. Forget two years. Any company that's found guilty of willingly abusing the H-1B program should be debarred for the life of the program. Period.
The H-1B Debarred/Disqualified List of Employers maintained by the DOL, current as of November 2009, includes 21 companies. Each has been debarred for only two years, which helps to explain why there are 21 companies on the list rather than two or three, and why H-1B visa abuse is so rampant. There needs to be a much more substantive disincentive, and the prospect of losing the privilege of access to this program forever might just do the trick.
All of that said, it's important that we not lose sight of the fact that battles against H-1B visa abuse, however small, are increasingly being won. We should take heart in that, and let it serve to encourage the fight for more stringent enforcement and penalization.