Alabama B-1 visa case draws Sen. Grassley's attention

Worker's civil case against Infosys takes on broader implications

WASHINGTON - A lawsuit against Indian offshore giant Infosys Technologies is getting the attention of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who wants top Obama administration officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "to get to the bottom of the situation."

The lawsuit triggering Grassley's letter to Clinton and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was filed in late February by Jay Palmer, a principal consultant at Infosys. Palmer alleges that he was threatened and harassed after refusing to help the company bring workers in on B-1 visitors visas for work he believed required H-1B visas.

Grassley's letter raises the profile -- and the potential implications -- of a case that began in an Alabama state court.

Aside from the civil case, Palmer is cooperating with federal investigators, according to his attorney, Kenneth Mendelsohn, of Montgomery, Ala. They are seeking his work laptop. The agency now looking into the case has not been identified, and what may come of this federal involvement remains unclear.

But Grassley's letter to Clinton and Napolitano may turn the case into a bigger issue for Infosys, as well as for any company that uses a B-1 visa.

Grassley is one of the leading critics in Congress of the H-1B visa program, but the Infosys lawsuit has drawn his attention to the B-1 visa. His inquiries and demands for review of the B-1 by these federal departments could lead to changes in the visa program.

Infosys may face more immediate problems. In his letter, Grassley asked: "Will the departments cease to approve visas for Infosys until the lawsuit in Alabama is settled?"

Infosys was the top H-1B user last year, receiving about 3,800 visas.

The B-1 visa is intended for short-term uses such as meetings and conferences. Palmer's lawsuit contends that the company was using B-1 workers in full-time positions as a means to get around the need for an H-1B visa, which, unlike the B-1, includes prevailing wage and tax withholding requirements.

"If the allegations against Infosys are substantiated, American workers will have been hurt by this company's fraudulent actions, and the integrity of both the B-1 and H-1B visa programs will have been compromised," wrote Grassley.

Grassley is also challenging the State Department's internal rules that allow for a "B-1 in lieu of H-1B visas," and argues that the threshold for issuing a B-1 under this provision is too low. He said a "thorough review" of the provision is needed, "especially at a time when American workers are vying against foreign workers for employment in this country."

Grassley has asked for statistics on the number of B-1 visas being issued, which employers are using them, and the lengths of time a visa holder remains in the U.S. on a B-1, among other things. He wants the departments to respond by April 28.

Infosys was not immediately available for comment on the Grassley letter. But in a statement earlier this month, the company said that it was "in the midst of a detailed internal review to understand whether inappropriate actions were taken in the visa application process. We are moving as quickly as possible on this important work."

Palmer's case is being heard in a U.S. District Court in Alabama. Infosys has filed a motion asking that the case be moved into binding arbitration, citing an employment agreement with Palmer. In a court filing this week, Palmer's attorney objected to that motion.

Mendelsohn said Palmer "is honored that Sen. Grassley has taken an interest in his case," and hopes that this lawsuit will help Grassley "in his efforts to better enforce our laws and to enact more legislation to help American workers."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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