New York: An Indian-origin woman has pleaded guilty for her role in an H1B visa fraud scheme under which foreign workers were recruited by two IT firms here but were not employed full time or paid according to federal rules.
Hiral Patel, 34, of Jersey City, pleaded guilty before US District Judge Kevin McNulty in the Newark federal court to an information charging her with conspiracy to obstruct justice as part of a scheme to fraudulently obtain foreign worker visas, US Attorney Paul Fishman said.
Patel could potentially be jailed for a maximum of five years in prison and fined of USD 250,000 when sentenced in June.
Patel was the human resources manager for two information technology companies SCM Data Inc and MMC Systems Inc, which offered consultants to clients in need of IT support.
Both companies recruited foreign nationals, often student visa holders or recent college graduates, and sponsored them for visas under the H-1B program that allows businesses in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers with specialised or technical expertise in a particular field, such as accounting, engineering or computer science.
Patel’s conspirators recruited foreign workers with purported IT expertise who sought work in the US.
They sponsored the foreign workers’ H-1B visas with the stated purpose of working for SCM Data and MMC Systems’ clients throughout the US.
When submitting the visa paperwork to the US Department of Homeland Security, US Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS), the conspirators represented that the foreign workers had full-time positions and were paid an annual salary, as required to secure the visas.
However, contrary to these representations and in violation of the H-1B programme, the conspirators paid the foreign workers only when they were placed at a third-party client who entered into a contract with SCM Data or MMC Systems.
The conspirators told the foreign workers who were not currently working that if they wanted to maintain their H-1B visa status, they would need to come up with what their gross wages would be in cash and give it to SCM Data and MMC Systems so the companies could issue payroll checks to them.
The conspirators asked the foreign workers to submit bogus payroll checks to USCIS as proof that the workers were engaged in full-time work despite the fact that they were not working for the companies.
As the US Department of Labour (USDOL) launched an audit of SCM Data and MMC Systems, the conspirators fabricated leave or vacation slips to USDOL for the time periods that the foreign workers were not working to conceal the fact that they were not paid during those time periods as required by federal law.
Patel, who was the human resources manager for SCM Data and MMC Systems, admitted that in February and March 2015, she was involved in preparing false leave slips for the foreign workers on behalf of SCM Data and MMC Systems.
The case comes amid a strong criticism of the abuse of the H1B visa programme, which US lawmakers say is used to bring in cheap labour from foreign markets like India and replace American workers.
US President Donald Trump has vowed to reform the immigration system to ensure Americans don’t lose their jobs and are given priority by companies before bringing in foreign workers.