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Infosys Visa Investigation

Is Infosys Using B-1 Visas for H-1B Workers?

Infosys earlier this week said it received a subpoena from a federal court in the United States asking the Indian software exporter to provide sponsorship details of B-1 visas meant for its employees making short business-visits to the U.S. Allegedly, the company repeatedly violated U.S. visa laws in order to place its own foreign employees in temporary jobs at some big corporate clients in the U.S. The reason for doing so was to avoid the lengthy (up to several months) and costly process (upwards of $3,000) of applying for the more difficult to obtain H-1B visas which are limited to 65,000 and target high-skilled professionals, such as software developers, who are then allowed into the U.S. for longer-term work. There is no cap on B-1 visas, which can be obtained in a matter of days for $140 each.

In case you are not familiar with Infosys, InfoSys it is best known as an outsourcing company that provides India-based computing and other technology services to Western clients. Over the years the company has expanded operations into the U.S. by using thousands of employees to develop and install software for back-office accounting, logistics and supply-chain management for companies in the retail, finance and manufacturing industries.

The investigation of Infosys comes as a result of a lawsuit filed in Alabama state court earlier this year by an Infosys employee, Jack Palmer who alleged that he was asked by the firm to sign on documents which said workers went to the U.S. to have meetings rather than to work there. Palmer claims that this was done to "creatively" overcome H1-B visa caps. In his lawsuit, Palmer alleges that Infosys was affected by the limited number of H-1B's in 2009 and began using B-1's to circumvent H-1B requirements.  Palmer claims to have attended meetings in Bangalore, where Infosys officials discussed the need to find "ways to creatively get around the H-1B limitations and process to work the system to increase profits and the value of Infosys' stock." Palmer also says he was asked to prepare letters in support of B-1 applications stating " the employee was coming to the U.S. for meetings, rather than to work at a job."

Palmer refused to write the letters and was allegedly instructed by a manger sent from India "to keep quiet." Palmer reported his concerns to Infosys' corporate counsel, Jeff Friedel, who advised him to report them to the company's whistle-blower team, which he did in October 2010. Palmer's suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for, among other things, breach of terms of employment and emotional distress. He is still employed by Infosys but, according to his attorney, he is not currently doing any work.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company has said it intends to comply with the notice it got and cooperate with the investigation. "We take our legal compliance obligations very seriously," a company spokesperson said. "Infosys is a very ethical company....it pushes the appropriate policies to do the right things...there may be an outside chance that somebody has done something...it is very hard to [gauge] that with an employee base of 140,000 plus people....but even if something happens that will be settled very quickly." Talk about passing the buck and not owning up to your responsibilities. Perhaps there was a rogue employee who did something wrong. The matter will be settled very quickly. I haven't heard such a lame explanation for wrongdoing since British-based Barings bank that was brought down in 1995 due to unauthorized trading by its head derivatives trader in Singapore, Nick Leeson.

This isn't the first time the H-1B program has been investigated for fraud. In February 2009, federal agents arrested 13 employees of IT services firm Vision Systems Group who allegedly fraudulently represented themselves or other workers in immigration documents. The firm allegedly used fraudulent documents to bring H-1B visa workers into the U.S. Critics of the program have said over of years that it brings lower-cost tech workers into the U.S., displacing American workers. Sometimes I can't fight off the deep-rooted cynicism I feel for corporate America that seemingly will do anything, say anything, be anything, so long as it improves the bottom line. There is little regard for right and wrong -- good and bad. Ethics, according to big business USA, seems to be relative to whatever one wants it to be. There are no core values to live by. Honesty and integrity has taken a back seat to expediency and greed. What will it take to get our business "leaders" to act in that way -- as leaders who are worthy of respect and a  following because of what they stand for and how their actions improve society.

 Blog by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, June 6, 2011

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