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.
As I mentioned earlier in my post, "Yes, We in the U.S. Media Are Lousy at Covering H-1B Visa Abuse," Infosys Technologies employee Jack Palmer last month brought a lawsuit against the Indian outsourcing services provider. Palmer, an American employee who works for the company in Alabama, is alleging that Infosys is engaging in large-scale visa and tax fraud, and is harassing him for refusing to play along with it. On Saturday I spoke with Kenneth Mendelsohn, the Montgomery, Ala., attorney who's representing Palmer. You can read my interview here.
Mendelsohn filed the lawsuit on Feb. 23 in the Circuit Court of Lowndes County, Alabama. He told me that when Palmer went to work at the client site on Feb. 28, the Monday after the lawsuit was filed, he logged onto his computer and found a death threat on the desktop. "Jack, just leave. You're not wanted here," the message read. "Hope your journey brings you death, stupid American."
That's just one piece of evidence in a "stack of documents a show dog can't jump over," Mendelsohn told me. Here's a summary of the allegations in the lawsuit. I suggest you take the time to read it all, because it'll blow you away.
- During the course of his employment, Palmer learned that Infosys was sending lower-level and unskilled foreigners to the United States to work in full-time positions at Infosys' customer sites, in direct violation of immigration laws. Palmer also learned that Infosys was paying these employees in India for full-time work in the United States without withholding federal or state income taxes, and that Infosys overbilled customers for the labor costs of these employees.
- In March 2010, Palmer was invited to Bangalore for planning meetings. During one of the meetings, Infosys management discussed the need to, and ways to, "creatively" get around the H-1B limitations and process, and to work the system in order to increase profits and the value of Infosys' stock. The decision was made by management to start using the B-1 visa program to get around the H-1B restrictions.
- In order for a foreign Infosys employee to obtain a B-1 visa, an American employee of Infosys had to write a "welcome letter," basically stating that the employee was coming to the United States for meetings rather than to work at a job. Palmer's managers in the United States and India asked him to write these welcome letters. Palmer was concerned about the accuracy of the letters and the legality of these employees working in the United States, so he contacted Infosys' HR department. HR confirmed that Infosys' foreign employees could not work in the United States on B-1 visas, so Palmer refused to write the welcome letters. On July 1, 2010, Palmer was asked to join a conference call to discuss his refusal, during which he was chastised for not being a "team player."
- Palmer was then transferred to another project in a different division, and he soon learned that Infosys was illegally employing B-1 visa holders on that project as well. Infosys asked Palmer to rewrite the contract for the project, but he refused because he knew the purpose was to try to cover up the fact that Infosys was overcharging the customer by using the lower-income B-1 employees and charging the higher pay rate for specialized H-1B employees. Palmer called Infosys' corporate counsel, Jeff Friedel, and explained the details of the violations. In September 2010, an Infosys manager from India came to the United States to talk to Palmer. The manager confirmed the violations, but stressed to Palmer that it was important 'to keep this quiet.'
- On Oct. 11, 2010, Palmer again called Friedel and told him again of all the violations. Friedel told Palmer to file a report with Infosys' Whistleblower Team, and that he would handle the situation. Palmer reported the violations to the Whistleblower Team the same day. The Whistleblower Team failed to promptly investigate Palmer's report, and still refuses to thoroughly and fairly investigate and correct the illegal conduct.
- Since the filing of the whistleblower report, Palmer has been subjected to constant harassment, threats and retaliation, including but not limited to the following: He has received numerous threatening phone calls; his e-mail has been changed so that his e-mails could be monitored; Infosys has allowed and promoted a hostile work environment in which Palmer has had to endure racial taunts or slurs, including being called 'a stupid American' and criticized for being a Christian; Infosys has refused to pay Palmer his bonuses and to reimburse him for customary and substantial expenses; Infosys knowingly allowed employees who have harassed Palmer to participate in his performance evaluations and decisions to withhold the bonus payments; Palmer has been instructed not to report to job sites and was told that people do not want to work with him since he reported the illegal activities; Infosys stopped accruing Palmer's vacation time, and when Palmer complained to HR about lost vacation time, he was threatened by his managers; and Infosys has forced Palmer to work over 70 hours per week without appropriate compensation.
- Palmer reported to Friedel that Infosys was committing other violations of the law, including violations of the H-1B visa program, failure to pay federal and state income taxes, falsification of I-9 forms, and the fraudulent and illegal documentation of aliens. Friedel admitted by e-mail and via phone calls that Infosys was and is guilty of visa fraud.
I contacted Infosys to get a comment in response to all of this, and a spokesman gave me this statement: '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.' I followed up, and asked specifically if Infosys had any comment on the merit of the allegations. The spokesman's response: 'Not at this time.'
Mendelsohn, meanwhile, has no doubt about the merit of the allegations, and that he'll win the suit for his client. But he makes no grand proclamations about changing the world. 'I'm just a street lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama,' he told me. '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 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.
So here's where I stand at this point on the H-1B visa issue: There are a lot of good people in the United States on H-1B visas who are working hard and making important contributions, and doing it all by conscientiously following the rules. I've met with a lot of them, and I've become friends with some. I'm not going to throw them under the bus because some greedy, unethical, shameless companies are abusing the system. But if those companies aren't brought to justice, we may have no other choice. Things can't go on the way they are.