Outsourcing firm ordered to pay up

Terms of employment under visa programme violated, court says

One of the largest users of H-1B visas, India-based Patni Computer Systems, is paying US$2.4 million (NZ$3.2billion) in back wages to 607 of its H-1B employees as part of an agreement announced recently by the US Department of Labour.

(An H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa granted to overseas workers in specialist occupations such as IT).

Officials say that Patni failed to pay the prevailing wages due the employees between January 2004 and December 2005. The law requires H-1B employers to pay wages similar to what a US worker would receive.

Patni spokesman Gene Carozza said the back wage problem was due to an accounting error, since rectified.

This may be the largest H-1B wage settlement case ever reached by the US government, and it involves an investigation that spanned 32 states, according to John Chavez, a labour department spokesman. In total, the settlement would amount to nearly US$40,000 in back wages per employee if the money was split evenly among them, which it most likely is not. “The main objective (of the settlement) is to make [employees] whole,” says Chavez.

In a statement, Labour Secretary Elaine Chao says “the department is committed to vigorously enforcing the H-1B provisions that guard against employers undercutting American workers by underpaying temporary foreign workers.”

Patni received 1,391 H-1B visas in the 2006 fiscal year. It has about 13,000 employees and reported $156 million in revenue for the quarter that ended March 31.

While the Labour Department has in the past barred some companies from using the H-1B programme because of violations — and has published a list of those companies — there was no evidence of a wilful violation by Patni in this case, Chevez says.

For a company to be considered a wilful violator it must meet a list of conditions that includes misrepresenting information.

The enforcement action comes at the same time some US senators are pushing for changes in the H-1B programme that would give the Labour Department more manpower and authority to investigate companies that use the visa programme.

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