Posted by: Jeffrey Neu on Apr 20, 2010
In the IT sector, H1-B visas are a blessing and a curse. When used appropriately, they bring highly skilled workers to the U.S., help a market grow, and provide needed skills and resources. When used in a different manner, they bring extortion, crime, and well, a lot of unsavory characterisitics not anticipated by the H1-B program.
The H1-B visa is a visa awarded to an individual for employement at a specific employer. There are various requirements to qualify for an H1-B visa, including education level, job offer, and they look at your originating country and several other aspects in relation to your application. One instance where the H1-B visa status has continually been exploited in the U.S. is in the consulting industry. Rather than use of the H1-B visa to bring qualified individuals over to the U.S. due to a lack of a particular skill or resource in the U.S., it is used almost as indentured servitude.
Consulting agencies (often referred to as temp agencies or similar) set up a recruiting office in a country where skilled workers are paid substantially less than in the U.S. (primarily India). They offer what would be a high paying job in India to an Indian worker and bring them to the U.S. on an H1-B visa. Typically this job in the U.S. is for somewhere between $25k and $60k a year. On it's face, it isn't a horrible salary....many people make less, but then you take out the fees, you add in the fact that the consulting companies that do this typically "forget" to pay at least the 1st month, if not the 1st two months of salary, and then casually forget to pay the last month's salary (or two or three), and next thing you know, you have a foreign worker with an expired H1-B visa and no money for a plane ticket home.
As many in the IT industry know, foreigners, particularly those from India, or those that would like to continue working in the U.S., which come from countries where the legal system is substantially more corrupt than in the U.S., have a fear of suing or entering the legal process to collect their unpaid salary.
Just recently the Star Ledger (a newspaper in New Jersey) ran a story about an IT worker's salary not being paid, but it was even reported (shock, gasp, hold your horses). After it was reported, the IT worker was "visited" by a few individuals. It highlights the picture which I painted above. Sadly, this story is far too common. In my practice of law, I run in to this all the time. Some cases we take and can try, some cases are just sadly too difficult to start. Read the story here.
There are a few things that you can do to help stop this practice.
1. When hiring consutling/temp agencies, ask and require documentation of how much the consultants you are hiring are being paid per hour/year, etc. Would you really pay $125/hour for a guy the consulting agency is paying $10 or $12/hour?
2. If the consulting/temp agency is using primarily foreigners, ensure that the workers are actually getting paid on a weekly, montly, whatever basis. If you ask in the 1st month if they have received their paycheck, more likely than not, they will continue to receive them.
3. Pay the consultant directly for the last pay period (yes this raises a lot of other issues, but they can easily be worked aroud.)
If you have this problem, or have run in to it, let us know. We'll do what we can.