Washington: IT major Infosys today agreed to pay to the US government a whopping sum of USD 34 million to settle charges of, what federal authorities said, massive violation of the country's immigration laws to maximise profits.
In the settlement, which resulted in the largest ever payment to a company over violation of immigration laws, the federal prosecutors, in the court papers, alleged instances of Infosys circumventing the requirements, limitations, and governmental oversight of the H-1B visa programme by knowingly and unlawfully using B-1 visa holders to perform skilled labour.
This was done, they allege, in order to fill positions in the US for employment that would otherwise be performed by American citizens or require legitimate H-1B visa holders. The government alleged that Infosys did so in order to increase profits, minimize costs of securing visas, increase flexibility of employee movement, obtain an unfair advantage over competitors, and avoid tax liabilities.
“The H-1B and B-1 visa programs are designed and intended to protect the American worker; and we will vigorously enforce the requirements of those programs,” US Attorney John M Bales after the settlement with Infosys was formally announced.
“We will not tolerate actions that mislead the United States and circumvent lawful immigration processes, whether undertaken by a single individual or one of the largest corporations in the world,” Bales said.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Infosys used B-1 visa holders to perform jobs that involved skilled labor that were instead required to be performed by United States citizens or required legitimate H-1B visa holders.
Infosys submitted “invitation letters” to US Consular Officials that contained false statements regarding the true purpose of a B-1 visa holder's travel in order to deceive US consular officials and secure entry of the visa holder into the United States, the court documents alleged. However, Infosys in a statement denied and disputed any claims of systemic visa fraud, misuse of visas for competitive advantage, or immigration abuse.
“Those claims are untrue and are assertions that remain unproven. The company's use of B-1 visas was for legitimate business purposes and not in any way intended to circumvent the requirements of the H-1B program,” the company said.
Court documents alleged that the “invitation letters” to the US consular officials often stated that the purpose of travel was for “meetings” or “discussions” when the true purpose was to engage in activities not authorised under a B-1 visa.
The US government alleged that Infosys directed B-1 visa holders to deceive US consular Officials, including specific instructions to avoid certain terminology, to secure entry of the visa holder into the United States.
“Infosys created a “Do's and Dont's” memorandum that it provided to foreign nationals entering the United States on a B-1 visa that included the following directions: Do not mention activities like implementation, design & testing, consulting, etc., which sound like work; Also do not use words like, work, activity, etc., in the invitation letter; and Please do not mention anything about contract rates,” it said.
According to the US government, Infosys told its foreign nationals to inform US Consular Officials that their destination in the United States was the same as that provided in the Labour Condition Application, notwithstanding the fact that Infosys knew that the destinations had changed.
“Infosys wrote and revised contracts with clients in order to conceal the fact that Infosys was providing B-1 visa holders to perform jobs that involved skilled or unskilled labor that were otherwise required to be performed by United States citizens or required legitimate H-1B visa holders,” it said.
The Department of Justice alleged that Infosys concealed the fact that B-1 visa holders were performing jobs that involved skilled or unskilled labor that were otherwise required to be performed by United States citizens or required legitimate H-1B visa holders by billing clients for the use of off-shore resources when, in fact, work was being performed by B-1 visa holders in the United States.
“Infosys failed to maintain I-9 records for many of its foreign nationals in the United States in 2010 and 2011 as required by law, including a widespread failure to update and
re-verify the employment authorization status of a large percentage of its foreign national employees,” it said.
The settlement agreement requires Infosys to make a payment of USD 34 million to the United States government. “The agreement was largely predicated on Infosys's cooperation with US during the investigation and on compliance measures taken by Infosys in the areas of B-1 and H-1B visas and I-9 documentation, both prior to and during the course of the investigation,” the Justice Department said.