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US visa fraud heat may scald Infosys

Information Technology major Infosys is faced with an expanding US government probe into its alleged violation of visa norms, with new players adding possibly damaging evidence.

Max Martin   Bangalore     Last Updated: June 23, 2011  | 17:18 IST

Information Technology major Infosys is faced with an expanding US government probe into its alleged violation of visa norms , with new players adding possibly damaging evidence.

News reports suggest the company might opt for arbitration. An internal whistleblower in the US has alleged that Infosys used short-term business visitor visas to bring employees to work on contracts in the US, bypassing restrictive worker visa norms.

Read: More changes in store at Infosys?

Infosys project manager Jack Palmer filed a lawsuit in view of the above in February in Alabama. It appears now that more people have backed him.

"At least two other Infosys managers in the US have submitted internal whistleblower reports," The New York Times reported on Tuesday. It added that these reports point to Indians on business visitor visas undertaking long-term work that is unauthorised under visa norms.

Read: US probing Infosys for visa violations

In his sworn affidavit, Palmer reportedly told the federal court that he had differences with the Infosys management when he was called for a meeting in Bangalore in March 2010. He alleged top company executives discussed ways to "creatively" get around H- 1B visa limitations so that costs could be lowered.

An Infosys spokesperson in Bangalore said the company would not like to comment as it was in the silent period ahead of its next quarter results.

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In papers filed in the lawsuit, Infosys denied all of Palmer's accusations and asked a federal judge to remove the dispute from court and send it for arbitration, The New York Times reported.

In May, Infosys said it received a subpoena from a grand jury in a US district court, asking the firm to make available certain documents related to B-1 business visas. Infosys added that it intended to cooperate with the investigation.

Infosys co- founder NR Narayana Murthy said in a meeting on June 12: "As I leave the board, I feel sad that Infosys, voted most often as India's most respected company during 1995- 2011, has been issued a subpoena…" Indian industry observers are banking on this reputation of Infosys. " Knowing that Infosys has always maintained its head above the league, especially in anything concerning ethics, my belief is that the company cannot do this kind of thing and has not done it," Harish Bijoor said.

He attributed the allegations to the prevalent anti-Indian IT workers sentiment in US politics.

Prof S. Sadagopan, Bangalore's Indian Institute of Information Technology director, had the same view. He said: "Firms such as Infosys, Wipro and TCS have always maintained high standards." Reports suggest Infosys was probably on the right side of the law, at least technically.

"Infosys and other Indian companies had made use of an exception in the visa guidelines to send workers to the US on B-1 business visas for up to six months for certain short- term projects, instead of taking the more complex H-1B visa meant for such workers," The New York Times reported. Business visas are not meant for salaried work.

Sadagopan sees political motives-of individuals, parties and possibly companies - behind the allegations and recent developments give credence to such a view.

Last week, Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, a Democratic Party member of the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill seeking a hike in the salary of H-1B workers. "Protect American workers by increasing wages and reforming the broken H-1B and L-1 visa programmes," Lofgren said.

Last year, US Congress hiked the fees for H-1B visas. As such, there were noises made in campaigns, including by Barack Obama, against outsourcing to India.

Nasscom chief Som Mittal has highlighted the need for comprehensive immigration reforms in the US to attract talent. Mittal said the industry group was collaborating with the government.

There are calls in the US too.

Last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg demanded the removal of cap on H-1B visas and green cards. "We must stop telling US firms they can't hire the workers they need," he said.

Palmer's statements, as reported by The New York Times, however, suggest Infosys or some of its managers tried to cut corners by stretching the scope of business visas. He reportedly said his supervisors asked him to write invites to workers to come from India for "sales and training meetings" so that they could come on business visas, and he refused.

The report quoted Palmer as saying that he personally knew of at least 60 Indian workers doing contract work on B-1 visas.

Inputs from Ayan Pramanik

Courtesy: Mail Today 

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