Americans are increasingly coming to a better understanding of how the H-1B visa is being used to undermine the American workforce in numerous industries.
With the H-1B visa, companies in the United States are allowed to temporarily employ foreign workers “in occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty, or its equivalent.” The H-1B has been a major source of U.S. tech worker displacement since 1990, an issue which PFIR recently spotlighted.
What is not so well known, is the level of exploitation of H-1B workers. Through my work, I have come to know many Indian H-1B visa workers, and several have shared their stories with me in the last year. Many of the stories are of intimidation, rape and organized slavery. Of the total H-1B visas issued every year, 70 percent go to Indian workers, 65,000 go to overseas applicants, and 20,000 are reserved for foreign nationals studying in the U.S. to earn an advanced degree.
Not only is H-1B worker abuse and exploitation happening, but there frequently are no consequences for the companies violating U.S. laws on trafficking in persons. While there has been some prosecution, it barely scrapes the surface of what I’m hearing anecdotally.
I spoke with one worker who left India for the U.S. in search of the American Dream. He was promised a job paying $80,000 annually, but there was no job. Awaiting him in the U.S. was a “guest house” where up to 15 people lived in one room and shared a bathroom. He was at the mercy of the company he contracted with, and enslaved for over (owed) $15,000 for his H-1B visa.
It would seem word-of-mouth stories of abuse would make their way back to India and discourage the idea of working in the U.S. So why do workers continue to want to come to the U.S. on an H-1B visa? According to the American Dream seeker I spoke with, the standard of living in India is horrible, inflation is high, and work days are 14 hours or longer. “I used to go to work at 8am and returned home between midnight and 2am.”
From this worker’s experience, “Everyone is breaking U.S. laws. People enter the U.S. illegally. Insurance is a scam. Everything in the U.S. is a scam, and USCIS is not seriously implementing rules. You pay to get here on an H-1B, apply for a green card, and get nothing.” He added that the goal of many Indian workers is to get a green card in the U.S., and that the Indian companies who handle the visa transactions are essentially turning the workers into slaves for 12 or 15 years with EB-2 and EB-3 visas by enslaving them to work free or for minute wages.
Amisha dreamed of tech assignments in New York City and Silicon Valley, and was promised cutting-edge projects and clients, but soon discovered it was all a lie. What was very real was $20,000 of debt to U.S.-based Indian managers for sponsorship of her H-1B visa.
Like many others, Amisha had to search for projects on her own. She lived in horrid conditions, and was at the mercy of corrupt Indian managers who threatened to send her back to India. She says meetings often led to forced, non-consensual sex for payment. As a result, Amisha contemplated suicide.
These are just two of many stories of worker abuse and exploitation happening every day in America.
The practice of displacing qualified Americans by hiring foreign workers is unconscionable. But the other side of this story is equally offensive and unconscionable. We’re allowing the abuse – human trafficking – of untold numbers of foreign workers. The gamed visa system needs to be put on hiatus until integrity can be restored to the program. This is the only way to ensure that fraud and abuse of the system and H-1B workers are eliminated.
Jay (Jack) Palmer is a consultant and expert on visa fraud. Learn more about H-1B visa fraud and abuse here.