Indian CEO of Washington state tech firms charged with  H-1B visa fraud

The CEO of two Redmond, Washington state tech firms has been charged with fraudulently obtaining more than 100 H-1B visas for foreign workers through the use of falsified documents.

An Aug. 29 report in the Seattle Times noted that the Justice Department has charged Pradyumna Kumar Samal, chief executive of Azimetry and Divensi. Both businesses have served as contracting firms finding, hiring and assigning workers on behalf of the region’s major technology companies.

The Justice Department noted in a press release that Samal, 49, is a citizen of India. The agency said that the prosecutor of the case was Assistant U.S. Attorney Siddharth Velamoor.

Federal officials filed papers in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, charging that in at least 137 cases of visa applications handled by Samal’s companies, the paperwork indicated workers were needed for a particular client and project – and included letters falsely purporting to be from the clients themselves. The government says that the projects were nonexistent.

Attorney Diane Butler of Davis Wright Tremaine disputed the claim on behalf of her client Samal.

Butler told the Seattle newspaper that the arrest of Samal reflects “the current hostility toward business immigration in a zero tolerance environment. Companies like his have helped keep the economy vibrant by providing H-1B tech workers for short-term projects.” According to the Justice Department press release, Samal incorporated the companies in 2010 and 2011.

The government, however, described Samal’s technique is known as “bench and switch” and said it was ongoing over the course of several years. Federal officials said the investigation was launched in 2015.

The Seattle Times report said that according to the government’s case, once a worker arrived in the U.S. with the visa, he or she did not receive the assignment indicated on the application forms.

But Butler accounted for the difference in assignment by explaining that company projects change during the time period in which an H-1B application is filed and when the worker starts.

H-1B visas, which are valid for three years, allow companies to bring in highly skilled foreign workers – many of them from India. The visas are limited under an annual quota and are subject to an annual lottery.

According to the Seattle newspaper, Divensi filed the fifth largest number of H-1B applications in the state, with 390 applications in 2016. The newspaper said that the total puts Divensi just behind Amazon, Microsoft and Infosys and HCL America, which are outsourcing firms. Divensi lists Microsoft, Amazon and Tableau on its website as some of the big tech companies in its portfolio of clients.

Justice officials claim that as many as 200 workers may have been brought into the U.S. through Samal’s use of the bogus visa applications. Officials noted that the employees were required to pay a “security deposit” of as much as $5,000 to one of Samal’s companies for the visa application process regardless of whether they were ultimately employed as a result. Justice officials said that the security deposits were only partially refundable.

Justice officials said Samal was a key player in the so-called “bench-and-switch” scheme. Officials say he routinely vetted the applications for the H-1B visas and would often encourage his staff to sell the idea of employing the potential visa holders to other clients.

Samal was departing an international flight at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport when he was arrested on August 28. The agency said he had fled during the investigation – a charge that Butler refuted. She said her client was out of the country on business in India at the time.

According to the press release, visa fraud has a penalty of as much as 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

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