H-1B Worker Driven Deep into Poverty Sues Employer

By David North on March 16, 2016

The H-1B worker wanted a few days off work so that he could visit his dying father in India; his employer (a fellow Indian) said not until you give me $300.

The H-1B did not have the money so he never saw his father alive again. Or so one side argues in federal court.

At a time when a lot of H-1B controversies deal with whether the worker should get $90,000 a year rather than $70,000 it is a splash of cold water to the face to encounter an H-1B conflict where real poverty is involved.

The case, a class action filed in the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of New York, revolves around the claims of Amjad Saiyed, who came to the United States in 2009 on an H-1B visa obtained by Archon Distribution, Inc. The firm is run by Rashid Patel and operates in both New York and New Jersey. It is not clear exactly what it distributes, but the plaintiff claims it grosses $11 million a year. The full set of court documents can be seen as case 2:14-cv-06862-JS-ARL on the PACER system.

The plaintiff invoked several laws, such as New York State's Wage Theft Prevention Act, and the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

Whether Saiyed's claims are accurate or not has not yet been decided by the court, but the details in the court records are remarkable. The worker claims that he and unspecified other Archon workers were paid considerably below the alleged wages recorded by Archon with the Department of Labor and additionally were forced to give the employer cash refunds.

As an example, in 2009 these were his wages as reported to the Department of Labor, to the Internal Revenue Service (on a W-2), and in actuality:

  • DOL: $48,006
  • IRS: $28,500
  • Actual: $20,977

The difference between the last two numbers, the plaintiff said, was $7,523 in cash rebates to the employer (who may or may not have recorded that sum in his 1040 filings to IRS, a possibility not mentioned in the brief).

In a better world, the government's computers would be talking to each other, DOL and DHS would have been notified of the glaring $48,006 vs. $28,500 discrepancy, and Patel would have been hauled into court. But we do not live in a better world.

Saiyed claimed similar wage reductions and shakedowns in other, more recent years.

The plaintiff, fearing that his employer would have him deported, said that his employer imposed slavery-like conditions on him. Among the many charges (bear in mind this is one side of the story), were these:

  • Patel refused to give this worker any vacation days;
  • He did not grant this worker holidays, including July 4;
  • He did not grant any sick leave;
  • He threatened the worker's wife with the termination of H-4 status if the worker and his family did not perform personal chores for the Patel family; and
  • He did not provide workers' compensation insurance or health insurance.

Saiyed also states in the complaint — and I have a little trouble believing this one — that he had stay at work after the office was closed and had to work in the dark.

Patel has opted to be his own lawyer, despite the fact that the other side of the matter is represented by Michael Joseph Romano and his Mineola, N.Y., law firm. Patel has simply denied the worker's charges, adding that Saiyed does not have a bachelor's degree, and is thus not eligible for an H-1B visa. (Patel, of course, is the one who filed for the H-1B visa, so one wonders why he makes this argument.)

The employer, according to the Myvisajobs.com website, sought 11 other H-1B workers in the years 2010-2014.

The employer tried to have the case transferred from the Eastern District of New York to the federal courts in New Jersey and also sought to dismiss the case because Saiyed had returned to India (before his H-1B visa expired). The sitting judge, Joanna Seybert, rejected both of Patel's motions, meaning that there will be a trial on the merits.

One hopes that the Indian press will report this Indian v. Indian case, and, particularly, pick up on the fact that a federal judge has ruled that exploited H-1B workers can sue from India.

The total damages claimed by Saiyed are not shown in the court papers I have seen, but they would seem (including interest) to add to the better part of a million dollars. If the worker wins and is, in fact, paid, he and his family can live well in India for the rest of their lives.