-Photo courtesy of NDTV
-Photo courtesy of NDTV
Jack Palmer is not a well-known man. In the past year he has struggled with dejection and depression stemming from his case against Infosys, the Indian technology giant for which he worked. Not long ago, a court in Alabama, in the southern United States, dismissed the whistle-blower case he had filed against Infosys, citing a lack of evidence. Palmer’s claim had alleged that Infosys, which employs 160,000 people in 30 countries, had sidelined him because he was not Indian and was also involved in widespread visa fraud. Myron H Thompson, the judge who heard the case in Alabama, decreed that Palmer’s claims did not meet the standard of negligence and mistreatment required by the law for him to bring a case. Infosys, whose reputation in the United States lay on the line, heaved a sigh of relief.

That was the story in August of 2012; but what a court can do, an investigation can undo. This past Tuesday, October 29, 2013, came news that Bangalore-based Infosys had agreed to a civil settlement of $34 million after Federal prosecutors in Texas had found it committed “systemic visa fraud and abuse.” According to a statement released by the prosecutors, Infosys had knowingly and unlawfully brought Indian workers on business visitor visas, thus avoiding the higher costs and quotas associated with a legal work permit in the United States. Documents retrieved by the investigation revealed that Infosys not only provided fake “invitation” letters to the workers but also provided them with instructions on how to lie to US immigration officials when they were being questioned.

Here in detail, is the summation of InfoSys visa sins. In the ordinary case, a worker being brought over to the United States must get work authorisation. Currently, the filing of such authorisations for workers coming to the United States falls under the H-1B visa category. Not only do these visas cost an average of $5000 in fees to be paid by employer, they are also capped by a quota of only 60,000 per year. What the low quota means (as every hopeful immigrant worker who has ever tried to participate in it knows) is that the 60,000 visas for a particular year are met within a week of its opening. Everyone else waiting for an n H-1B authorisation is placed on a waitlist. Often the wait is years long. In addition to being subject to the quota, the employer is also required to show that the job was first available to an American worker and, secondly, that the wage paid to the foreign worker hired was equivalent to the “standard prevailing wage” for the job in the United States.

Heavy with rules and regulations and quotas, obtaining an H-1B visa is difficult and costly and time consuming. Infosys’s cardinal sin, then, was to find a shortcut. Instead of applying for H-1B visas and waiting and waiting, it began to bring over workers from India on the B-1 Business Visitor Visa. The purpose of this visa is to allow business professionals to attend meetings and conferences in the United States. It is therefore not subject to all the regulations and scrutiny applied to the H-1B visa, receiving relatively cursory interrogation. The workers that were brought over on this visa were, however, not coming in for meetings or conferences but to work on Infosys projects. According to records, they were often paid far less than what a worker would have to be paid under the H-1B regulations.

The shortcut was lucrative for Infosys. Not only did it give the company a competitive edge by allowing for the faster completion of projects, but also at a lower cost. So it was until the arrival of Jack Palmer, the whistleblower, who alleged before the Alabama judge and then before Federal prosecutors that he had been sidelined in the company because he was not Indian and that Indian workers were being brought into the country illegally. It took a few years, but eventually the prosecutors, no doubt whetted by the anti-immigrant political climate in the United States, gathered enough proof to nab Infosys. Jack Palmer was instrumental; not only did he collect a paycheck the entire time from Infosys, he is now a multi-millionaire expected to receive anywhere from $5 million to $8 million for his help in the investigation.

Given all of Pakistan’s regularly whetted nationalist gripes against India, it is easy to be smug about the misfortune of an Indian company at the heart of India’s technological success. Indeed, if interpreted on the letters of the law, Infosys was guilty, using one category of transporting alien bodies into America’s haloed soil instead of another and lying in the process to make it all work. A few ethical points can also be marked up on behalf of the fact that the imported workers were paid less than what they would have deserved under the H-1B visa process. All this is true; and there is the settlement document and the $34 million amount to prove it. A now chastised Infosys that employs 15,000 people in the United States is likely to be far more careful in the future. Notwithstanding the many (and far more artful) crimes of corporate America, this brown company will have to prove its ability to follow the visa regimes of a white world.

For countries birthing brilliant brown minds, relying on their brains and merit to participate and get ahead in world of corporate technology, the Infosys settlement is a setback. Corporations are quick to complain about the obstacles to their access to various markets in the developing world, but never a word is said about the global caste system that allows workers with equal merit born in one part of the world to be deemed more deserving of a job than those born in another. An Indian engineer can be easily thwarted in his ambitions by the lack of a visa, while an American one is deemed deserving of infinite legal protections. A brown company favoring brown workers is deemed discriminatory; the white whistleblower deemed worthy of millions in reparations. The brown workers are all sly and deceptive lawbreakers, guilty of trying to overcome the terrible misfortune of being born with a passport that does not allow them to flit here there and everywhere on the globe. Jack Palmer with his millions is the hero of the story; Infosys is the villain. All of it is yet another example of the global class system of workers, where the white, the western, are ultimately and always the lucky and the deserving — and now also the victims.

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