Visa fraud rarely prosecuted

Companies and public agencies were fined tens of millions of dollars in recent years for running afoul of federal work visa rules, but such violations rarely have resulted in criminal charges, an I-Team investigation found.

The U.S. Department of Labor typically investigates H-1B visa fraud and deems companies and agencies to be “willful violators” if they don’t follow program rules. This doesn’t bar them from getting H-1B visas but requires additional steps over the next five years.

Currently in Ohio, three Columbus companies — including two IT consulting or software firms — are listed as willful violators. All three were found to not be paying foreign workers required wages.

Since 2005, the Labor Department has listed 64 companies and agencies in Ohio as willful violators, including Cleveland State University, the University of Toledo and Dayton Public Schools. Again, all three were found to not be paying required wages.

The Dayton case began in 2004 when a pair of district human resource managers filed paperwork to bring over eight teachers from the Philippines in exchange for $8,100 from the teachers, even though there were no jobs for them. The school district was found at least partially responsible and had to pay $89,480 in back wages.

Criminal prosecutions from H-1B work visa fraud are far less common, but they do occur. In May, two employees of New Jersey IT companies were charged with using the H-1B program to harbor illegal aliens.

Court documents allege the men recruited foreign nationals, often student visa-holders or recent college graduates, and sponsored them for visas. But instead of paying them as the visa requires, they paid them only when they had work with third-party clients and hid that fact with bogus payroll checks, investigators claimed.

“This scheme provided (the suspects) with a labor pool of inexpensive, skilled foreign workers who could be used on an “as needed” basis, according to a news release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “The scheme was profitable because it required minimal overhead, and SCM Data and MMC Systems could charge significant hourly rates for the foreign workers’ services.”

In 2013, a California man was charged with visa fraud for allegedly claiming on immigration forms that 19 Indian workers had job offers with American employers when they did not.

Work visa fraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Other companies have paid huge settlements on fraud claims. The largest ever involved the Indian company Infosys, which in 2013 agreed to pay $34 million to the federal government to settle allegations of visa fraud and abuse of immigration processes.

Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University who specializes in immigration policy, believes misuse of the H-1B visa program is a widespread problem, but he is not surprised there are few criminal charges.

“The law has so many loopholes that it’s fairly easy to exploit they system without breaking the law,” he said.

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