Devastating Investigative Report Exposes One Part of the H-1B Problem

By David North on October 30, 2014

There are two major problems with the H-1B program:

  1. It routinely drives down wages for everyone in the high-tech industries and deprives resident workers of good jobs.
  2. It often results in the additional exploitation of workers from India, routinely, but not always, by firms from India.

A new series by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) does a devastating job on how many H-1B workers from India are indentured, bullied, mislead, underpaid, and otherwise badly treated by these Subcontinent firms.

It completely ignores the adverse impact of the program on resident workers.

But if a mixed blessing, the series is a blessing because it emphasizes the disgraceful and often illegal practices of many of the employers. According to the series, the H-1 B program does not relate to the "best and the brightest" or any "shortage" of skilled workers — too often it relates to greed, pure and simple.

The series (whose authors consulted CIS some months ago) consists of two comprehensive, substantive studies, and two interesting and useful by- products.

Perhaps the best segment of an entire year's work is the second of the two comprehensive elements, one that is headlined: "Federal tech contracts awarded to job brokers with labor violations".

The authors looked extensively at two data sets: 1) government IT contracts let to outsourcing, or job brokers; and 2) government findings that such contractors had broken the government's own rules.

In the best-case scenario they never would have found any overlap at all — a point CIR does not make — because H-1B violators would all be barred from contracting with the feds. Or maybe there would be only a few cases of first-time violations.

Needless to say, this did not occur. Here's what CIR found in the real world, where government contracting agencies pay little attention to labor standards:

  • "[T]he federal government has awarded contracts and other benefits worth nearly half a billion dollars since 2000 to tech labor brokers cited for violating laws related to H-1B."

  • "[S]ince 2000, nearly 20 percent of the technology labor brokers and tech firms cited for violating the H-1B visa program have received federal contracts, payments, and other government support."

Among the government agencies funneling money to these violators is the Department of Labor itself! Government official plead, when pressed on these matters, a shortage of resources needed to track down the violators. I suspect, there's a shortage of will as well.

This is all valuable, first-hand reporting.

The other substantive CIR piece deals primarily with how the labor brokers abuse their own workers. (That this is primarily a case of Indians exploiting other Indians is not, so far as I could see, stressed as such.)

The authors, Matt Smith, Jennifer Gollan, and Adithya Sambarmurthy, provide example after depressing example of how — over and beyond the basic exploitation of the H-1B program — individual Indians are routinely cheated by these labor brokers.

Essentially, these are indentured workers (though college grads) and fear of reprisal plays a major role as they are recruited into the program, brought to the United States, and then placed into jobs. The litany of exploitative techniques used on these workers is legion: They are forced to pay fees that the employers should pay; they are not paid when they are supposed to be paid; there are illicit deductions from their wages; and if they leave before the end of their contract, they are assessed penalties that are contrary to the law — and if not collected immediately, subject to court action, with the judges usually agreeing with the employers. All of this is described thoroughly, usually with real names of real victims.

The auxiliary documents from the series include a fairly predictable (but welcome) local NBC news show summarizing the investigation, an immigration advocacy tool I have never seen before, a graphic novel, plus case studies of two employers, and a sidebar listing some of the tricks used by the employers.

All of which shows that the reporters were not content simply to see their results on the Internet.

Their findings set in motion some thoughts of mine on a couple of different tools to use against this part of the H-1B problem, which will be covered in a subsequent blog.