An Indian American entrepreneur Rohit Saksena is providing ‘services’.
By Sujeet Rajan
NEW YORK: As the Department of Labor continues its investigation of Indian IT firms Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services – which Vishal Sikka of Infosys terms only as an auditing issue – for possible misuse and malpractice of H-1B visas, an interesting story in a Montana newspaper, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, makes it clear that if nothing else the outsourcing world is a murky one with plenty of legal and immigration loopholes in it; there are various ways to manipulate rules and regulations regarding the use of work visas.
The report in the Chronicle by reporter Daniel DeMay focuses on a million dollar IT project entitled ‘Cyber-Rez’ for Fort Belknap Indian Community, close to the town of Harlem, in Montana. The town has 880 people, is dependent on agriculture as its primary industry, and is located far away from more populous towns.
The grand project, which proposes to provide internet resources for the Native communities, plans to bring in as many as 41 H-1B workers from India through a New Hampshire based IT consulting firm called SAKS IT Group. The firm is founded by an Indian American Rohit Saksena, who has close ties to the non-profit Rose Community Development (CDC), based in Montana, which contracted the work to him.
If it actually transpires, even if all the H-1B workers are single with no families, that would mean a sudden boost of 5% in the population. If each of those workers come with families, it’s likely that the new arrivals from India would number then around 200, and the town population could see around 25% population growth. But it’s a bigIf.
The U.S. Department of Labor earlier this year certified SAKS to bring 41 workers to work at 58 S. Main St. in Harlem, where Rose CDC is located. The founder and director of Rose CDC is Doug Stuart. Saksena himself is closely involved with the operations of the Rose CDC. He is listed as vice president of operations on more than a decade’s worth of Rose CDC tax records.
Rose CDC hopes to bring 20 to 25 specialized workers from India to start the project later this year, according to Saksena, reported the Chronicle. A project using that many foreign workers on H-1B visas would be the largest such project in Montana in recent years, according to federal records.
According to federal certification documents, each worker on the Rose CDC project would earn $60,000 annually, dumping roughly $1.2 million in payroll into the area if the project starts with 20 workers.
Apart from red flag that should be raised by the salary of $60,000 for an H-1B worker, which seems ridiculously low for prevailing wages in the country for such work, the major loopholes as exposed by the Chronicle report are many: the work has not started, is not even at a late development stage, most prominent locals, including the Native leaders and the mayor of the town of Harlem, have no idea what the project is all about, who is going to pay for them (Rose CDC has not managed more than $150,000 in any given year for a plan, and most of their work in the past has involved only studies and research plans), the town lacks housing for even 10 visitors, forget 41 workers. The address listed as the Rose CDC office is a small office with barely room for a few people to be accommodated, least of all for a million dollar IT operation involving more than three dozen workers from India.
Stuart, who lives with his mother in an aging mobile home just across the train tracks from his Main Street office in Harlem, previously filed for bankruptcy and earns no salary from Rose CDC, according to tax records. He says he makes his living off of other business interests.
The Chronicle reported that according to Montana and New Hampshire Secretary of State records, Stuart and Saksena are both connected to at least three companies.
Both men are named in Montana Secretary of State documents as managers of Big Sky Global LLC, an information technology consulting firm Rose CDC hired in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to “bring enhanced Internet connectivity to Indian country,” according to federal tax forms. Saksena is the lone agent listed on New Hampshire Secretary of State records for Big Sky Global, reported the Chronicle.
Rose CDC paid Big Sky Global more than $111,000 over those three years. Records for 2011 were unavailable, but in 2012, Rose paid Big Sky Global more than $95,000 under a single line as “Consulting with integrated marketing and technological services to help market their services to Indian country.”
When asked specifically what Big Sky Global did for Rose during those years, Stuart told the Chronicle he couldn’t remember.
Saksena is also listed as the principal agent for Rose CDC in New Hampshire Secretary of State records, as the nonprofit is also licensed there. Similarly, Stuart is listed in Montana records as an “LLC manager or member” with Big Sky Global.
According to unpublished USCIS records, and reported by the Chronicle, Big Sky Global had 36 H-1B visa workers approved between 2008 and 2013.
Many of the Department of Labor certifications for Big Sky Global listed a Great Falls office as the place of work. The Great Falls office, a small space above a Wells Fargo Bank branch in downtown Harlem, has seen little activity. According to the Chronicle, a secretary in a nearby office said she had seen a man come and go about once every month or so, and sometimes not for several months at a time. The city of Great Falls, which requires businesses to hold licenses and have regular safety inspections, has no record of Big Sky Global.
According to guestworkerdata.org, Montana saw 350 foreign workers during fiscal year 2013, working under H-1B, H-2A and H-2B visas. Sixty-two of those workers came under H-1B visas and Montana State University took the most with 16.
A call made by The American Bazaar to Saksena at his office in New Hampshire went to a automated voicemail; it was not returned. On its website SAKS IT Group LLC says it “offers a full range of globally available, highly qualified, industry professionals to meet the technology demands of successful businesses.”
Saksena admitted to the Chronicle during a May interview that it would be hard to board that many workers in Harlem, though he planned to hold initial planning meetings at the Harlem office.
Read the Chronicle story in full here:
The question to be also asked is how many workers did Saksena get labor certification for the Montana project at $60,000 per worker, and how many H-1B visas were allocated in this year’s USCIS lottery to his firm? If this project is stalled, then are those workers going to be put to other jobs which pays more than $60,000, maybe $100,000 plus? In that case, does Saksena report that to the Department of Labor and the USCIS?
Questions also must be answered as to how much of due diligence does the US Labor Department and the USCIS do in allocating big projects like this to little known entities like Rose CDC and SAKS? It’s really absurd that Montana State University got 16 H-1B visa workers while Rose CDC could have 41 H-1B workers on a project which has no pre-approval from the town mayor or the native reservation,
If the labor costs for the Rose CDC project itself is worth more than a million dollars, then who is going to pay for office space, for other amenities? Do these workers from India on H-1B visas know the lack of housing and other amenities in the town?
The Labor department and the USCIS can put their scanner on big corporates like Infosys and Tata, investigative them, and the end result might be a few civil penalties. The question is really how many operatives like Saksena are out there who are providing services to non-profits like Rose CDC who have big projects lined up with perhaps no fruition in sight?