One of the leading technology companies in the United States that uses H-1B workers has recently agreed to backpay nearly $510,000 to 67 employees. Based on an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, it appears that Cognizant Technology has been found in violation of several laws.
From a recent article in Computerworld:
"Teaneck, N.J.-based Cognizant is one of the largest H-1B users, having received approval for 467 visas during the federal government's current fiscal year. That put Cognizant, which has more than 60,000 employees worldwide, in seventh place on the list of H-1B recipients for fiscal 2008.The Labor Department, in a statement released this week, said that the company had violated federal law by failing to pay "proper wages" to H-1B tech workers. Cognizant also "failed to offer all H-1B workers equal benefits or eligibility for equal benefits, and failed to maintain required records," the agency said.A Cognizant spokesman said that the company isn't commenting on the settlement".
While the H-1B visa program has been shown consistently to be rife with fraud and abuse, it's good to see enforcement of the law is occurring, but it certainly continues to add fuel to the fire of advocates who want to abolish the program altogether in a time of economic hardship for American workers in all sectors of the economy.
The Computerworld article rightly points out that this Cognizant Technology case is relative small potatoes compared to some of the other abusers of the program like Mumbai-based Patni Computer Systems and Michigan's Computech, who owed collectively over $5 million dollars in backpay and fines.
While enforcement of the law by the Department of Labor exposes and embarrasses those companies, there is still the issue with the scope of the problem. How widespread is the abuse?
Also, how effective can a large department of the government be in these cases in a time of economic crisis while states cry for federal help to stay afloat? If you've been paying attention to unemployment figures across the nation, I think it's pretty evident that the DOL is preoccupied these days.
Is it time to revamp the H-1B visa program in a way that forces companies to play by rules more proactively? For all those who have been found to be in violation, how many other companies are out there underpaying without being policed?
It's certainly an issue the Obama administration and Congress will need to address. Hopefully, old Washington-style politics don't get in the way.