Wright State University has continued to sponsor foreign workers through the temporary work visa program even as it is under a federal immigration investigation for its use of the visas.
Wright State has applied for 14 H-1B visas so far this year, according to records reviewed by this newspaper. From 2005 through 2013, the university acquired 124 work visas. The number peaked at 20 in 2011.
Those numbers are on par with other Ohio public universities, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. Statewide, public universities acquired 1,662 work visas over those years. The most, 396, went to the University of Toledo.
Most of those under work visas at Wright State are professors and assistant professors, but a review of the records shows the Wright State Research Institute, the university’s research arm, has brought in more than two-dozen foreign workers through the program.
Among those employed by WSRI through H-1B visas include a human factors engineer whose listed work location was LexisNexis, and a researcher working at a company owned by a university trustee.
WSRI’s mission calls for leveraging its affiliation with the university and community partnerships to facilitate job growth and technology development.
Before hiring someone on an H-1B temporary work visa, an employer must file a “Labor Condition Application” attesting that they need workers with specialized skills not available in the local workforce. One of the most recent LCAs filed by WSRI was for a materials scientist named Satya Ganti, whom the university hired at a salary of $65,000.
Her work location is at UES, a Dayton defense contractor whose CEO, Nina Joshi, sits on Wright State’s board of trustees. The UES website lists Ganti on a team working to deliver on a $2.9 million Air Force contract.
UES has entered into $300,678 worth of contracts with Wright State Applied Research Corporation, the funding arm of WSRI, since the beginning of 2011.
UES officials declined to comment on Ganti’s work for the university, referring questions to Wright State. University officials issued the following statement:
“We understand the increased public interest in the details of the university’s previous H-1B visa activities. As you know, the university is limited in what it may discuss due to an ongoing investigation being conducted by authorities. We’ll have much more to say once the investigation is complete.”
Records obtained by this newspaper show Wright State agreed to hire Ganti for UES, and then drafted a contract to pay for her salary and benefits. The job description was written by UES’s human resources department. Ganti’s supervisor on a “New Hire Kick-Start Form” is listed as Joshi, though another email notes that the “reporting line” should be WSRI, not UES.
Federal immigration rules on H-1B visas require that a person’s employment be controlled by the visa sponsor.
“The reporting line should be the employee’s ‘boss’ here at WSRI — in this case I think that should be Bruce Preiss since he is leading our push in this area,” reads a Jan. 28 email from then-WSRI director Jason Parker. “Obviously we know that the employee will take their day-to-day direction from their supervisor on the customer side.”
Parker has since been promoted to head up research development for the university.
The pay and arrangements for workers under the H-1B visa program have attracted congressional scrutiny.
The local prevailing wage for the job code listed on Ganti’s LCA was $77,813 when she was hired for $65,000, according to a database maintained by the Department of Labor. UES has to pay prevailing wages for people it hires under work visas. Wright State does not.
The average wages for Wright State workers on work visas between 2005 and 2013 was $48,179. Statewide at public universities it was $50,510.
Last month, the university applied to renew a visa for a history professor at a salary of $58,483.
Unlike employees at WSRI, professors hired under work visas are represented by the American Association of University Professors and their pay is set by the AAUP contract.
University professor positions are by nature highly specialized, and Wright State AAUP president Marty Kich said the university considers applicants for open jobs based purely on qualifications.
“I think that universities are interested in and committed to hiring the best possible faculty, so in that respect I don’t think there’s a central issue with that (use of H-1B visas) for faculty unions,” he said.