Biggest H-1B Employer Gets Medium-Bad Review from NY Times

By David North on June 22, 2011

The good news is that the biggest H-1B employer in America got the negative attention of the New York Times this morning, including a teaser on the front page.

The bad news is that Times reporter Julia Preston managed to cover what many would regard as an economic crime without mentioning the victims: U.S. workers squeezed out of high tech jobs by the big Indian-owned firm, Infosys Technologies.

Although it was a long and reasonably detailed article, it was no journalistic scoop. Infosys's alleged misuse of B-1 (short-term) visas to bring cheap labor to the U.S. was mentioned in a blog of mine on June 7, and even earlier in other publications.

The charge is that Infosys has illicitly used B-1 visas to bring low-cost workers to the U.S. in an effort to skirt the fees and minimal labor market protections that come with the H-1B program, which it also uses extensively. B-1, or business visitor, visas are for short business trips to sell goods, to attend conferences, or to install machinery, but not for continuing work within the American economy.

An Infosys employee named Jack Palmer has blown the whistle on the firm's use of B-1 visas to bring Indians to the U.S. to perform continuing work that is banned under the terms of the visa. This led to a subpoena from a federal district court grand jury in Texas.

Ms. Preston's story (it also carried the byline of Vikas Bajaj) relied heavily on Infosys sources. She quoted the departing board chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy:

"As I leave the board, I feel sad" about the subpoena, he said. "The issue will be decided on its merits in due course," said Mr. Murthy, who is something of a legend in global business for building the company over three decades from a $250 investment into an outsourcing powerhouse with $6 billion in revenue.

The focus of the article was on a dispute between the huge firm and the visa rules and regulations. There was not a single mention of the fact that Infosys's extensive use of the H-1B program, and its presumable illegal use of the B-1 program, both denied thousands of jobs to resident U.S. workers.

One line in the article that was not amplified carried that (hidden) message:

The company reports a total of 15,500 employees in this country, including 10,100 of H-1B visas. North American clients account for 65 percent of the company's revenue.

Infosys was the largest user of new H-1B visas in fiscal year 2010, securing 3792 of them, according to an article in Computerworld of February 11, 2011. The ratio of a "stock" of 10,100 H-1B employees, as compared to the "flow" of 3,792 new ones, is fairly typical in the industry.

The industry always talks about the (always smaller) number of new visas, rather than the (always larger) number of new and continuing visas.