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Indian outsourcing giant Infosys has agreed to pay the U.S. government $34 million to settle an investigation into immigration problems. The company supplies American firms with foreign tech workers. But as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, American tech workers have long argued that Infosys also holds down wages and creates unfair competition.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Malcolm Bales is the U.S. attorney for eastern Texas, and for the last couple of years, he's been looking at whether Infosys brought in foreign workers on the wrong kind of visa. Sounds like a bureaucratic quibble but Bales says it matters.
MALCOLM BALES: Americans should care because what Infosys was doing was putting workers in the United States that otherwise would not have been allowed to actually work.
KASTE: He says Infosys misused B-1 visas. They're the visas meant for people coming to the U.S. for meetings or training. Instead, he says, they stayed and did full-time work on the cheap.
BALES: And what you often find is that these guys are sort of living in apartments where four or five of the guys carpool together, they do the IT work for the particular company that Infosys has contracted with. And they're being paid what they would be paid back in Mumbai or whatever town they're from.
KASTE: Infosys admits problems with the I-9 forms it filed for its workers. But despite the $34 million it's paying the government, it denies it committed visa fraud. It says it didn't use that many B-1s to begin with. This is the company spokesman, Ken Montgomery.
KEN MONTGOMERY: Just to give you some context on that, of all the work done by Infosys employees in the United States using visas, only .02 percent of the work done was under a B-1 visa.
KASTE: Still, this settlement is seen as vindication by the American tech workers who've complained about unfair competition from foreigners on questionable visas. They say that competition has held down wages despite the big demand for software engineers. Donna Conroy runs Bright Future Jobs. It's a group opposed to what she regards as widespread industry discrimination.
DONNA CONROY: This proves that they will do anything, including breaking the law, in order to avoid hiring Americans.
KASTE: But American tech companies say that's actually backwards. They've complained for years that they can't find enough qualified Americans, which is why they go to companies like Infosys. That argument gets some sympathy in Washington. The immigration bill that passed the Senate earlier this year would more than double the number of H-1B visas. Those are the temporary visas that allow foreigners with tech skills to work here legally. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.