Infosys, TCS, Cognizant accused of gaming the H-1B visa lottery system by Trump administration

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NEW YORK: In a further indication that the United States is aggressively going after H-1B visa reforms with focus on curbing the use of the work visa by Indian IT service companies, the Trump administration came down hard on Infosys, TCS and Cognizant, saying they have gamed the lottery system used to determine 85,000 H-1B visa recipients annually.

“[S]o some companies oftentimes are called outsourcing firms. You may know their names well, but like the top recipients of the H-1B visa are companies like Tata, Infosys, Cognizant — they will apply for a very large number of visas, more than they get, by putting extra tickets in the lottery raffle, if you will, and then they’ll get the lion’s share of visas,” a Trump administration official was quoted as saying on April 17 at a press briefing, a transcript of which was posted online by the White House.

“And those three companies are companies that have an average wage for H-1B visas between $60,000 and $65,000 (a year). By contrast, the median Silicon Valley software engineer’s wage is probably around USD 150,000,” the official said.

The official added that about 80% of H-1B workers were paid less than the median wage in their fields. “Only about 5 to 6%, depending on the year, of H-1B workers command the highest wage tier recognized by the Department of Labor, there being four wage tiers. And the highest wage tier, for instance, in 2015, was only 5% of H-1B workers,” the official said.

The remarks came two days before President Donald Trump signed an executive order to reform the H-1B visa and pursue a ‘Hire American’ policy.

The “Buy American, Hire American” executive order sets the ball rolling for a review of the H-1B visa, and the departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State Department to crack down on alleged “fraud and abuse” in the immigration system in order to protect American workers. It urges these departments to propose reforms to ensure H-1B visas are awarded on the basis of merit, a fact reiterated by several Trump administration officials.

In the past, several Indian IT service companies have come under the purview of the Justice Department for alleged work visa misuse as well as using other non-work visas to get work done illegally in the US.

With strong anti-immigration critic Jeff Sessions now Attorney General, it’s likely that the Justice Department will be tough on any instance of visa misuse by Indian IT service companies.

It’s also more than likely that the visa lottery conducted this year is the last based on old rules. The 2018 visa lottery will likely admit only exceptionally talented and skilled individuals on H-1B visa whose pay would be minimum $100,000.