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Tech giant Infosys pays record fine over immigration violations

A security guard stands at an entrance gate of India software giant Infosys Technologies in Bangalore, India in 2005.
A security guard stands at an entrance gate of India software giant Infosys Technologies in Bangalore, India in 2005.

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The tech outsourcing giant, Infosys Limited paid a record $34 million fine to the United States government Wednesday, in a settlement over alleged immigration violations, federal officials announced. The India-based company is accused of engaging in systematic visa fraud, bringing as many as 6,000 foreign workers into the United States over the last few years on visas intended for short-term stays.

U.S. Immigration and Customs officials said workers were intentionally brought to the U.S. on what's known as  B-1 visas, which are relatively easy to obtain, but intended for business travelers on short-term trips to attend meetings, trainings and other brief activities.

According to ICE, the workers should have held H-1B visas, which are harder to obtain and costlier. H-1B visas are used to employ foreign workers with certain specialized skills for long periods of time, are issued by the government on a limited basis and require employers to pay visa holders competitive U.S. wages.

ICE special agent David Marwell says the company illegally saved millions of dollars by paying the workers brought here Indian wages, far less than they would earn with the proper U.S. visa.

"The H-1B visa is a strictly regulated visa program that essentially protects the American worker from unfair competition from overseas countries that have drastically lower labor wages," Marwell said. "By allowing its employees to unlawfully work within the B-1 visa structure, Infosys' practices circumvented requirements to protect American workers, and gained an unfair competitive advantage by paying workers at their prevailing wage in India."

According to ICE, the company submitted “invitation letters” to U.S. consular officials with false information about the work the B-1 visa holders would be performing - with the letters often stating that they would be traveling here for “meetings” or “discussions” - not to work.

ICE also alleges that Infosys directed these foreign workers to keep mum about the true nature of their stay in the U.S., handing them memos with with instructions like: “Do not mention activities like implementation, design & testing, consulting, etc., which sound like work.”

Marwell said it's estimated that out of roughly 6,000 foreign employees brought to the U.S. by Infosys in recent years with B-1 visas, at least 90 percent were performing work beyond what the visa entitled them to do.

Infosys Limited has offices in 30 countries and around the United States, including California. It has a human resources office in Texas and ICE officials allege some of the illegal activity occurred there, as well as overseas.

The company agreed as part of the settlement to clean up its business practices, and there will be no further punitive action, according to ICE. The fine levied was to have been paid within 30 days, but ICE officials said the company paid it in full on Wednesday.

Increasing the number of H-1B visas available is one aspect of the immigration reform proposals currently under debate in Congress.