Brown Administration Does the Right Thing for Exploited Chinese Workers

By David North on November 7, 2013

While Governor Jerry Brown's administration in California is routinely misguided in its illegal alien policies, it did the right thing late last month regarding the exploitation of some nonimmigrant workers from China.

The state labor department fined BYD, a Chinese electric car company, about $100,000 for exploiting a small group of workers brought in from China to work in its modest LA factory, one that had received $2 million in tax breaks from the City of Los Angeles.

The workers, who seem to be engineers, were paid $2,200 a month by their employer plus free housing, according to the company; the workers said that they got $1.50 an hour (in Chinese currency) and $50 a day for expenses.

The state minimum wage people said the workers were not paid the California minimum wage, which is about four times what these workers were getting, that they were not covered by workers' compensation, and that they were not "given a second brief rest period".

Neither a New York Times article nor that of a trade paper, Jalopnik, bothered to identify the visa status of the workers.

Given the rock-bottom wages and the fact that MyVisaJobs, a web-site that lists H-1B employers, does not list BYD, I assume that these Chinese workers were here on B-1 visas, documents that do not permit paid employment in the United States.

The LA story — on top of the recent Infosys scandal involving the same misuse of B-1 visas, but in that case for Indian workers — almost makes one yearn for the H-1B program, despite its abuses.

Tip to the California Labor Department: When an employer uses B-1 visas instead of H-1B visas, as in the Infosys case, that deprives the U.S. government of H-1B fees and that, in turn, makes the whistle-blower eligible for a substantial reward under the federal False Claims Act. This appears to be the case in the Infosys scandal, as I noted in an earlier blog. The California minimum wage people should look into that possibility in connection with the BYD matter.

It has been my experience over the years that these state-level minimum wage agencies are likely to be ill-funded and are unlikely to take on immigration-related cases. Wouldn't it be nice if the False Claims Act could encourage them to go after these B-1 visa cases, which my colleague, John Miano, says are all too common?