US slap a $35 million fine on Infosys for abuse of B-1 visas

Out of court settlement after a former worker turned whistleblower.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: Information technology giant Infosys will be fined around $35 million by the US Department of Justice.

The fine, which is expected to be announced on Wednesday, is for the alleged misappropriation of visas that Infosys used to bring foreign workers to the US. According to an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, Infosys brought an undisclosed number of workers to the US under B-1 visas, as opposed to the more typical H-1B visa.

They did this because the B-1 is far easier and cheaper ($160) to obtain, even though it only actually allows the holder to be in the US for a very short amount of time. H-1B visas, on the other hand, are obtained through a lengthy process, cost around $5,000, and are in high demand due to the fact that the US only gives out 65,000 in total per year.

The catalyst for the investigation was Jack Palmer, a former Infosys employee who took Infosys to court in 2011 over allegations that they mistreated and subsequently fired him because he became aware of their misuse of visas. He claimed to have been in meetings at the Infosys headquarters in Bangalore, during which he was told to prepare documents for B-1 visas rather than H-1B.

Palmer said that Infosys would essentially file for visas for foreign workers by saying that they have a highly specialized skill which they can’t find in any applicant in the US. Infosys would tell the government that the worker would only be in town for a meeting, and would not be hired to actually work with US borders.

Although Palmer’s initial case was thrown out by a judge, the federal government investigated anyway. Rather than go to court on the matter, Infosys chose to settle the case with the US government out of court, which is where the fine is coming from.

Infosys and its abuse of the visa system may have a bearing on the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, which was passed by the House earlier this year but has been stuck in the Senate since this summer. After getting pushed out of the headlines by the government shutdown, the debt ceiling, and Obamacare, the “Gang of Eight” bill may soon jump back into the limelight. One of the bill’s aims is to de-incentivize companies from using H-1B visas to bring in workers, instead requiring companies to look at workers domestically before turning their eyes elsewhere.

This is not the first time Infosys has been in the headlines for less-than-reputable reasons. Earlier this year, a Wisconsin woman filed a lawsuit against the company for not hiring her, saying that she was well-qualified for the position she applied to but that Infosys turned her down in favor of south Asian (specifically, a Bangladeshi).

Infosys employs around 15,000 workers in the US, of which roughly 90% are South Asian. An Infosys filing from this past March indicates that a majority of its US workers are on H-1B visas.

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