The Obama Administration's Labor Department has severely penalized a New Jersey-based software firm for violating the rules of the H-1B program.
Peri Software Solutions Inc. and its president, Sarib Perisamya, were both charged with a series of violations, fined $439,000 and told to pay $1,456,422 in backwages. The Department's press release also said the "company could face a two-year debarment from participating in [the] H-1B program."
The latter action would, presumably, open jobs to resident workers, but at a not-very-pleasant worksite, if the press release is to be believed:
An investigation . . . by the Wage and Hour Division found that the Newark company failed to pay the required prevailing wage . . . [and] forced employees to sign employment contracts and then sued them when those contracts were broken. Due to the willful nature of the violations, the company was also . . . [fined] $439,000 . . .
The back wages would amount to average payments of $10,000 each to about 150 H-1B workers.
I found this interesting for three reasons.
First, at the policy level, although the Obama administration generally believes in open borders, there are bits and piece of the government (as noted in some previous blogs) which are pretty vigorous in the defense of resident workers.
Further, the Peri decision is another indication that this administration has consciously and openly sought to cut back some of the worst of the guest-worker programs, including the H-2A program for farmworkers.
Secondly, the Peri decision will, I suspect, play badly for the company within the very active network of current and potential H-1B workers. I encountered this both on the web, and in person.
There are lively, quite negative discussions about Peri on some websites, such as these anonymous comments:
There is nothing good about this company. If you want to leave the country [presumably the writer and his friends do not] then join this desi employer who will get you thrown out of the country as they are very experienced in doing that . . .
("Desi," by the way, is an adjective meaning from or about South Asia.)
Another wrote: "they are very good at taking advantage of graduates . . . by having you sign blank docs and stuff and are always ready to revoke your status . . ."
The power of the H-1B employers to revoke the legal status of their employees is, of course, the heart of the problem, as it has been for decades.
The day that I learned about the Labor Department's investigation of Peri Software, I talked to an engineering graduate student from India at the University of Maryland - College Park. I asked him if he knew about the department's action against Peri. He did not but he recognized the name of the firm "they are always around recruiting" he said.
"Now," he said, "they will go on the list."
"What list?" said I.
"It's on the net; it is a list of H-1B employers who are in trouble for mistreating their workers, it has ten-twelve names on it."
There is such a list, bearing a January 2010 date, though at the moment Peri is not on it. If the student I was chatting with is typical, it is well known among Indian grad students.
Another useful by-product of the Peri case is that immigration lawyers are busy on the web, urging H-1B employers to pay close attention to the Labor Department's rules.
The third interesting, and sad, aspect of the Peri crackdown is that it sounds like one of those all-too-common situations in which a well-established and greedy member of an immigrant group exploits his more newly arrived countrymen. I suspect most of the H-1Bs at Peri are from the Indian subcontinent. The president and owner's full name, Sarib Perisamya, suggests he is from the same part of the world.
When I was with the U.S. Department of the Interior's office of island territories, we had the names of all the exploitative garment manufacturers on Saipan; none were U.S. owned, all were owned by privately-held firms based in China or nearby. And the people they exploited were unsophisticated young women from Mainland China.
It is an unfortunate pattern, now being repeated, in this case, in Newark, N.J.