A group of 64 companies and organizations on March 22 sent a letter to President Obama to express concern about the way the U.S. government is handling the L-1 visa program. Conspicuous for its absence from the list of signatories was the company that's under criminal investigation by federal authorities for visa and tax fraud: Infosys.
L-1 visas are used by international companies with offices in the United States and abroad for intracompany transfers of foreign personnel for assignments in the United States. The signatories of the letter complained to President Obama that "American job growth and the U.S. economy are being harmed by unprecedented delays and uncertainty surrounding L-1 visas for valued employees." Among the signatories are the other two top Indian IT outsourcing services providers, Wipro and Tata; and U.S. IT services heavyweights Accenture, Cognizant Technology Solutions (which has its roots in India), CSC, Deloitte, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle and Texas Instruments.
One paragraph of the letter in particular is absolutely dripping with irony:
A significant concern is that an inconsistent and improperly narrowed definition of "specialized knowledge" is being used by the agencies to determine which employees qualify for L-1B status. Specialized knowledge may be best summarized as an advanced expertise about something a company values in its ability to do business. L-1B visas for specialized knowledge staff are an important tool in allowing companies to manage their workforce and intracompany talent pool without regard to borders. Appropriate use of the L-1B classification by careful and responsible employers plays a direct role in supporting job creation and job retention in the United States, as well as expanding advanced manufacturing, increasing exports, and encouraging foreign direct investment.
Of course, it is the rampant abuse of what constitutes "specialized knowledge" that prompted U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to crack down on the abuse and make it more difficult for these companies to obtain H-1B and L-1 visas. For years, some companies that are dependent on these visas have shamelessly displaced U.S. employees by bringing in cheaper foreign workers with claims that these workers have specialized knowledge that isn't available here. Now that the government is finally cracking down on that outrageous abuse, we're seeing the complaint that the government has "improperly narrowed" the definition of "specialized knowledge." Yet it was the improper (and illegal) broadening of the definition that has created the circumstance these companies find themselves in now.
It's fascinating that Infosys isn't on the list of signatories, given the fact that historically, it has been at the forefront of lobbying efforts like this. The company has maintained a perplexingly cavalier attitude toward the U.S. government's criminal investigation of its visa abuse, so there has been no indication that Infosys has any problem with taunting U.S. authorities. That cavalier attitude was epitomized by comments recently made by Infosys CFO V. Balakrishnan, as I reported in my Feb. 7 post, "Infosys CFO Publicly Claims No Visa Violations, Despite Company's Internal Admission." Remember this?
We are very clear that we have not violated any of the rules. We believe we have a strong case so the whistle blower case is not a visa case, it is a whistle blower case that will come up for trial somewhere in August. We have to fight it out through the legal process. The other one is a Department of Justice Investigation we are cooperating with them, we are giving all the data. We believe, we have a strong case and see how it goes.
I've heard through the grapevine that the federal authorities who are conducting the criminal investigation, and who have amassed a mountain of incriminating evidence against Infosys (thanks in large part to the cooperation of Jay Palmer, the Infosys employee who blew the whistle on Infosys' illegal activity), were absolutely livid when they saw the video of Balakrishnan making those comments. The federal investigators have met with Infosys' attorneys a couple of times in recent weeks, so it's probably safe to assume that Infosys now has a better sense of exactly how much hot water it's in. If that's the case, it's unsurprising that Infosys would want to avoid doing anything that would be unappreciated by government authorities.
I spoke on Sunday with Palmer's attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn, and found that he was also intrigued by Infosys' conspicuous absence from the list of signatories:
I found it very curious. Infosys has always been in the middle of these efforts, and they've always had kind of a joint effort with companies like Wipro. Exactly why they're not among [the signatories on this letter], I don't know. I can only speculate that either Infosys doesn't want to push their luck with everything that's going on with the federal investigation and the possible actions against them, or the other companies don't want Infosys in with them, with all the baggage and problems they have.
In any case, it's worth noting that copies of the letter were sent to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security. Those are the two agencies that are leading the criminal investigation of Infosys. If Infosys had signed the letter, let's just say it would have been very bad form. Maybe - just maybe - Infosys is starting to get it.