August 16, 2022

Indian Company Under Scrutiny Over U.S. Visas

Accusations that the company, Infosys Technologies, repeatedly violated the terms of business visitor visas were first raised in a lawsuit filed in February in Alabama by Jack Palmer, an Infosys project manager. Aside from Mr. Palmer, at least two other Infosys managers in the United States have submitted internal whistle-blower reports pointing to Indians on business visitor visas who were performing longer-term work not authorized under those visas, according to internal documents and current Infosys managers.

In May, Infosys acknowledged that it had received a subpoena from a federal grand jury in Texas seeking information about the company’s use of the visitor documents, known as B-1 visas, which are easier to obtain. This month, N. R. Narayana Murthy, an Infosys founder, expressed his concern about that investigation at a board meeting in Bangalore, India, in his final address before he retired as company chairman.

“As I leave the board, I feel sad” about the subpoena, he said. “The issue will be decided on its merits in due course,” said Mr. Murthy, who is something of a legend in global business for building the company over three decades from a $250 investment into an outsourcing powerhouse with $6 billion in revenues.

In papers filed in Mr. Palmer’s lawsuit, Infosys denied all his accusations and asked a federal judge to remove the dispute from court and send it to arbitration. In a statement, Infosys said it was committed to “absolute compliance” with American visa requirements and had undertaken an internal review of its practices.

“Infosys is a large and rapidly growing company,” the statement said. “We have made changes over time to certain of our policies relating to the business visa program and we may continue to make improvements in those policies and controls.”

The Infosys inquiry coincides with a broader attack in Congress on longer-term visas, known as H-1B, that Infosys and other Indian companies rely on to bring Indian technology workers to the United States. With unemployment for Americans stubbornly high, lawmakers have become increasingly reluctant to defend H-1B visas, which give temporary residence to highly skilled foreigners. In recent years, the top companies receiving those visas were not American names, but Infosys and another big Indian outsourcing company, Wipro.

Last week, Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, the senior Democrat on the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill that would increase the wages employers would have to pay H-1B workers, in an effort to ensure they do not undercut Americans. The measure is specifically aimed at Indian outsourcing companies. Last year, Congress added an extra $2,000 to the fee for H-1B visas, in another move aimed at the Indian companies.

Yet the criminal investigation is perhaps the most worrisome development for Infosys, which enjoys a reputation as one of India’s best-run and most respected companies. The events began with Mr. Palmer, 43, a project manager from Alabama who was hired by the company in 2008. In a sworn affidavit he submitted to the federal court, Mr. Palmer said his differences with Infosys management began after he was summoned to a meeting in Bangalore in March 2010. Top executives, he said, discussed ways to “creatively” get around H-1B visa limitations “to fulfill the high demand for its customers at lower cost.”

In general, B-1 visas are granted to business visitors coming to the United States for short stays to attend meetings, conferences or training sessions, or to install specialized equipment. Visitors may not be employed for contract work like H-1B workers, nor can they be paid salaries in this country. There is no annual limit on business visitor visas, whereas H-1B visas are restricted to 85,000 a year.

Mr. Palmer said his supervisors asked him to write letters inviting workers to come from India for sales and training meetings, letters he believed were false. “I refused to write the letters,” he said.

After word got out of his refusal, Mr. Palmer said, he was chastised by his managers and began to receive threats by e-mail and telephone. In October, Infosys has confirmed, Mr. Palmer filed a whistle-blower report about B-1 visa holders from India assigned to projects he or others managed. His report said the B-1 visa holders were doing the same tasks as workers on H-1B visas, including writing and testing software code. Mr. Palmer said he personally knew of at least 60 Indian workers doing contract work on B-1 visas.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/22/us/22infosys.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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