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  1. H-1B Employer Allowed to Deduct Attorney Fees in This Case

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    A Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled that an employer who deducted an H-1B visa holder’s attorney’s fees from the employee’s accrued vacation time did not violate the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Administrator, Wage and Hour Division, Department of Labor v. Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society.

    Woodman Life hired Oscar Garcia initially under TN non-immigrant visa status. Later, Woodmen Life submitted an H-1B visa to the USCIS, which was approved. After approval, Woodmen Life and Garcia entered into an agreement whereby Garcia would repay certain expenses, including attorney’s fees, related to the H-1B petition. When Garcia’s employment ended, based upon Garcia’s resignation, he received a final paycheck which deducted $5,800 for attorney’s fees from $9,644 which was owed for accrued but unused vacation.

    The DOL Administrator filed suit against Woodmen Life alleging $4,575 was unlawfully deducted from Garcia’s wages. (DOL determined $1,225 for premium processing was included in the $5,800 and was an allowable expense to be paid by Garcia.) The Administrator stated the $4,575 deducted from Garcia’s last paycheck was not allowed because it took his wages below the required wage. Woodmen Life asserted Garcia’s final paycheck did not fall below the required wage because Garcia’s vacation pay was accrued and did not affect the required wage. Under Woodmen Life’s vacation policy, if an employee resigns or is terminated, “accrued but unpaid vacation leave” will be paid in the final paycheck. Furthermore, Woodmen Life stated it treated Garcia the same as other employees who owed money to the company, such as for a tuition repayment plan.

    Under the statute, employers are prohibited from seeking repayment of H-1B attorney’s fees and expenses from the required wage. However, the ALJ found in this case the $4,575 was not deducted from the required wage; rather, it was deducted from Garcia’s benefits. The ALJ found the statute allowed this type of deduction, especially where it was consistent with Woodmen Life’s policy of repayment for certain expenses from accrued but unused vacation time.
  2. Employer Not Obligated to Offer Return Airfare to Discharged H-1B Employee

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    The U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) found a consulting company was not obligated to offer or pay a fired H-1B employee’s airfare to India, her home country, because she took no initiative to leave the United States. See Vinayagam v. Cronous Solutions (ARB Case No. 15-045 Feb. 14, 2017).

    Cronous, a consulting company, took several months to place Vinayagam. Eventually, it placed her with another company as a contract worker, where she worked for a few months before Cronous’ contract expired. Several months later, Cronous shut down its business and notified Vinayagam of her termination and her need to immediately leave the United States. Vinayagam stated she needed to be paid all the salary owed for her time she was “benched” (available for employment but not employed) and requested airfare to India. Cronous’ representative said he would check on that matter.

    Thereafter, Cronous sent a letter to the USCIS asking for revocation of its approval of the I-129 petition. Two months later, the USCIS did so. Cronous continued to pay Vinayagam until the revocation was approved.

    Vinayagam continued to reside in the United States for another 1 ½ years seeking other employment and unsuccessfully petitioning for a change of status to B-2 - visitor. She conceded she made no effort to leave the United States.

    Vinayagam filed a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) on underpayment of wages and a lawsuit in federal court. The parties resolved the lawsuit with Vinayagam receiving $45,000 in back pay for the period of February 2008 to February 2009. Vinayagam asserted at the DOL that she was entitled to back pay continuing until September 28, 2010 because Cronous did not offer or provide payment of return transportation costs upon her discharge.

    As most readers know, normally an employer who discharges an H-1B employee must offer to pay the employee’s airfare to his/her home country. Other conditions which employers must meet to affect a bona fide termination of an H-1B employee are express termination of employment relationship with the H-1B employee and notification of the USCIS of the termination in order that the I-129 petition can be revoked.

    The ARB determined Cronous had ended its obligation to Vinayagam by paying her wages through February 2009 and notifying her of her termination. It did not need to pay her costs home or offer to do so because Vinayagam voluntarily chose to remain in the United States without a valid visa, sought employment with other employers, and unsuccessfully sought to change to a B-2 visa.

    In this case, the employer was successful in not offering return transportation costs based on these particular facts. Your company may not be so lucky if it fails to offer the return transportation costs. Therefore, employers should always offer these return transportation costs when discharging an H-1B employee.
  3. Consulting Firm Settles with DOL Concerning H-1B Workers

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge Larry S. Merck approved a settlement between consulting firm, Indus Group Inc., and the administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, under which Indus will pay $214,785 in back wages to three H-1B computer programmer workers. Of the three employees, one is being paid $106,860 and the others - $57,760 and $50,160. The company has also agreed to pay $9,120 in penalties.

    According to the consent findings, the administrator found that in addition to owing back wages to the H-1B employees, the company did not cooperate in the investigation. However, Indus has now agreed to pay to pay the back wages as a “good faith resolution” of the dispute, according to the settlement.
  4. Judge Dismisses Claims Against Disney and Consulting Firms for Alleged Visa Abuse

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law
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    U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell agreed with Walk Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. Inc., and consulting firms, Cognizant Technology Solutions and HCL, that the former Disney employees’ allegations that Disney and the consulting firms conspired to replace Disney employees with foreign workers in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) were unsupported by the law. In so finding, the judge said claims that the consultants made false statements in applications to obtain H-1B visas for the foreign workers relied on a misunderstanding of the law, and were fatal to the RICO actions and related claims.

    Dena Moore and Leo Perrero sued Disney and Cognizant Disney and HCL, respectively, on January 25, 2016. Moore and Perrero, who are both Americans, claimed Disney conspired with the consultants to replace 200 to 300 U.S. employees with people hired under the H-1B program, which provides temporary visas for nonimmigrant skilled workers.

    The civil RICO claims against HCL and Cognizant were based on the allegation that they engaged in racketeering activity by falsely stating on required Labor Department forms that the hiring of the nonimmigrant H-1B employees would not adversely affect the working conditions of similarly situated employees. Perrero and Moore claimed their firings did just that. HCL and Cognizant argued that the requirement applied only to their own employees, not Disney’s. Judge Presnell agreed, noting the working conditions requirement mentions “its U.S. worker employees.”

    Furthermore, the judge found the certification that H-1B employees would not displace American workers does not apply to H-1B workers, who earn at least $60,000 a year and have certain education or skill levels.

    This has been a highly visible litigation with most experts expecting dismissal of the claims. Given the nature of the claims, it is expected that Moore and Perrero will appeal the dismissals.
  5. IT Companies and Company Officials Indicted for H-1B Visa Fraud


    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    IT companies, SCM Data, Inc., MMC Systems, Inc., their owner, Sowrabh Sharma, and an employee, Shikha Mohta, have been indicted for fraud in federal court, accused of conspiring to lie on applications for H-1B visas for temporary immigrant employees. The falsehoods were promises of full-time, in-house salaried jobs to foreign workers when the truth is they contracted the employees out, did not always pay them their wages and falsified pay stubs to cover-up their unlawful actions.

    The defendants “benched” employees, meaning they did not pay them when there was not work for them, which is a violation of the law, and created false pay stubs to cover up their actions. According to the indictment, the workers were pressured into paying Sharma to create the fake documents that indicated they were getting full-time wages, and were told if they did not do this, they would not be allowed to stay in the United States.

    The visa fraud and obstruction of justice conspiracy charge carries a potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The alien harboring conspiracy charge carries a potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    Stay tuned for further developments in this matter – guilty pleas, trial, etc.
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