Consulting Firm Settles H-1B Discrimination Case

Consulting firm settles H-1B discrimination case
iGate case is tip of visa-abuse iceberg, lobbyist claims

Rick Merritt
EE Times

SAN JOSE, Calif. The U.S. government fined a consulting firm $45,000 for placing online job ads for computer programmers that said only H-1B visa holders should apply. The case is just the tip of an iceberg of H-1B abuses, according to a lobbying group that filed the original complaint.

The Department of Justice said iGate Mastech Inc. (Pittsburgh) placed 30 online job ads in May and June 2006 asking for only H-1B visa holders. The case is one of 215 the DoJ has handled involving preference for H-1B workers over U.S. citizens since the year 2000.

One of the iGate ads was for a Java programmer in the Midwest. It stated “Only H-1s Apply, and should be willing to transfer H-1B.”

According to government figures from 2007 iGate Mastech employed 14 H1-B visa holders in 2007. It was one of nearly 30,000 companies employing a total of 126,219 H1-Bs last year.

Three India outsourcing companies ranked as the top three firms employing H1-B visa holders in 2007. Those companies were Infosys Technologies which employed 4,559 H1-Bs, Wirpo Ltd. (2,567) and Satyam Computer Services Ltd. (1,396).

“We are pleased to have reached the settlement with iGate, and look forward to continuing to work with the business community to educate the public about the protections and obligations under the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” said Grace Chung Becker, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division, in a press statement issued May 1.

The settlement also requires iGate to train its recruitment personnel and to post a non-discrimination statement on its Web site. Calls to iGate were not returned by press time.

According to Ed Perkins, chair of an IEEE-USA committee on workplace policies, “this case illustrates the need for Congress to act against such egregious misuses of the H-1B visa program, by passing legislation such as Senators Durbin and Grassley's H-1B and L-1 Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act.”

The Programmers Guild, a lobbying group for software developers, claims it has tracked as many as 5,000 such online ads from 1,000 companies. The iGate compliant was one of 300 the group has drafted, about 100 of which it has actually filed with the DoJ, said John Miano, a software consultant who founded the group and serves as its treasurer.

“We're just dealing with cases where people actually have posted blatant ads like this, not necessarily all the cases of people who abuse H-1B visas,” said Miano who earned a law degree and actively investigates such cases on behalf of the Guild.

Miano claims the majority of H-1B visa holders in the computer field come from what he called “body shops” that obtain H-1B visas for technical workers for a fee and then rent out their services once they are in U.S. Many wind up working in the computer departments of large end-user firms such as Wall Street brokers or insurance companies, he added. The workers are typically paid about 20 percent less than their local counterparts, he claimed.

“For the last few years the U.S. has imported more H-1B than it has grown new engineering jobs,” said Miano. “This program is out of control,” he said.

The H-1B program has lived in a swirl of controversy.

Big high tech companies and industry groups want to expand the program and other immigration initiatives because they say they can't find enough technical talent. The U.S. education system is not graduating enough students with the technical skills they need, they add.

Others claim the U.S. needs to clamp down on such programs which they claim companies use to hire lower cost workers. They claim the U.S. has an adequate supply of technology specialists.

Last fall, the IEEE-USA and the Semiconductor Industry Association jointly lobbied Congress to create a new foreign student visa category. It would allow science and technology specialists with a bachelor's or higher to get permanent residency status and a green card on an expedited basis.

The group's claimed 51 percent of master's and 71 percent of Ph.D. graduates in electrical and electronic engineering from U.S. universities today are foreign nationals. These graduates often wait five to ten years to get a green card, they said.

The Programmers Guild opposed the plan in a separate letter to Congress.

“Once obtaining a BS degree becomes a path to U.S. citizenship, U.S. universities and subsequently the U.S. tech professions will be overrun by foreign-born workers seeking any means to enter the US to escape the low living standards that pervade most of the world,” the group said in a letter to Congress. “This deluge will continue regardless of whether a labor shortage exists in the United States,” the group added.

Norman Matloff, who helps run the Center for Immigration Studies and is a vocal opponent of the H-1B program, published a study this month concluding that H1-B visa holders do not hold exceptional technology skills compared to U.S. citizens.

“Most foreign tech workers, particularly those from Asia, are in fact not 'the best and the brightest,'” wrote Matloff, who is also a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis. “This is true both overall and in the key tech occupations, and most importantly, in the firms most stridently demanding that Congress admit more foreign workers.

“Expansion of the guest worker programs–both H-1B visas and green cards–is unwarranted,” he concluded.