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Five years ago Infosys Ltd. paid $34 million to the federal government to settle charges that it misused the B-1 business visitor visa program. Now, they’re doing it again, a former employee says, and they retaliated against him for calling them out.
Subash Thayyullathil, a 17-year Infosys employee, is bringing a lawsuit this week under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, alleging that what the company did to him both before and after he complained amounts to labor trafficking in violation of federal law.
The information technology staffing giant brought workers over from India on B-1 business visitor visas who should’ve been on H-1B or L-1B guestworker visas, according to Thayyullathil’s complaint. B-1 visas allow holders to do things like attend conferences and meetings, but don’t allow work.
“Once I noticed that we had B-1 workers coming in doing the work, I knew this was illegal,” Thayyullathil told Bloomberg Law.
After he raised concerns about the practice with his superiors, Thayyullathil was given two weeks to relocate to India. Instead, he went on Family and Medical Leave Act leave and was fired when he returned.
“My work status was dependent on my employer, so I can’t work in the United States,” he told Bloomberg Law. Thayyullathil remains in the U.S. lawfully as a dependent of his wife, who’s on student visa.
The lawsuit, being filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, also implicates communications and wiring supplier Anixter International Inc. , where Thayyullathil was working under an agreement between the two companies. Anixter knew of and condoned Infosys’s visa practices, he says.
“Infosys prohibits retaliation against anyone for raising concerns and has a number of processes for employees to raise issues through its Code of Conduct, including anonymously,” the company said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law Sept. 19.
“We maintain strong policies and procedures to ensure compliance with U.S. immigration laws and remain focused on continuing to grow our presence in the U.S. to better serve our clients,” Infosys said. “Through Infosys’ investments in training and partnerships with academia and education providers and our commitment to hire 10,000 American workers, we are helping to ensure that the U.S. workforce has the essential skills required to succeed in the digital economy.”
Since May 2017, the company has announced the launch of three technology and innovation hubs in the U.S., as well as one design and innovation hub. The aim, Infosys says, is to provide training to U.S. workers to close the skills gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.
A representative for Anixter didn’t respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.
Allegations of visa fraud by Infosys date back to at least 2011, when former employee Jack “Jay” Palmer claimed the company was using B-1 visas to circumvent the annual 65,000 cap on H-1B visas.
Palmer’s allegations and those from former Infosys employee Satya Dev Tripuraneni spurred two separate congressional inquiries into the company’s visa practices, and ultimately the $34 million settlement in 2013.
Palmer is working as a consultant for Thayyullathil. He declined to comment on the case.
Infosys also faced a Labor Department investigation after it and Tata Consultancy Services supplied the H-1B workers who replaced laid-off U.S. IT workers at Southern California Edison in early 2015. The company later was cleared of wrongdoing.
In addition, the company is defending a class action in federal district court in Wisconsin that alleges it’s discriminating against workers who aren’t Indian or South Asian. The law firm representing those workers is behind six other class actions making similar allegations against other big IT staffing companies, including Tata, Cognizant Technology Solutions, and Wipro Ltd.
Infosys used the B-1 visa holders to justify Thayyullathil’s own L-1A visa, a temporary work visa reserved for executives or managers who transfer to a company’s U.S. operations from an overseas branch or affiliate. The B-1 visa holders were supposed to be his subordinates, the complaint says.
Infosys’ false statements to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services financially benefited the company and tainted Thayyullathil’s own visa, according to the complaint.
Thayyullathil initially told offshore management that B-1 workers were doing work, and said he was assured that the company would obtain the proper work visa. “But that never happened,” he said.
Per company policy, he then approached senior management, Thayyullathil said.
Senior management then pulled him off his project at Anixter. The company also refused to provide the documentation he needed to obtain other employment or maintain his immigration status.
In addition to the trafficking case, Thayyullathil has a lawsuit pending in federal district court in Missouri under federal and state whistleblower protection laws. Infosys also denies those allegations.
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