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10/30/2014 01:36 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2014

New Report Shows Underground System Of 'Illegal Penalties' Within U.S. Visa Program

From withholding wages to threatening legal action, an underground scheme is brewing within the U.S. visa program, a yearlong investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting has uncovered.

In an interview with HuffPost Live on Wednesday, government finance reporter Jennifer Gollan discussed the two-part report and explained how job brokers profit from foreign tech workers who come to the U.S. on temporary H-1B visas.

As the investigation revealed, the workers are easily lured away from their home countries by labor brokers, who often sponsor the temporary visas and then contract the workers out to large technology firms.

“[The brokers] promise these Indian workers high-paying, white collar jobs in the U.S. and in the government sector,” she said. “And they promise a better life for many of these employees who enter these highly competitive schools in India to reach the U.S. to make a better living for them and their families.”

The problem is that oftentimes the lofty promises “don’t live up to the reality,” Gollan said.

Because the workers often sign contracts that bar them from changing jobs, once they arrive to the U.S. they find their options limited. For those who do leave their companies, the CIR found more than 100 cases where the workers were slapped with “liquidated damages lawsuits” for breaking their contracts.

“Many of these workers are exploited once they arrive in the U.S. through restrictive contracts that they are forced to sign and punitive lawsuits that penalize them [with] hefty fees,” she said. "They have little choice but to return to India, impoverished and often owing these hefty penalties that sometimes they have to ask their families or parents to pay."

Between 2000 and 2013, at least $29.7 million was illegally withheld from about 4,400 tech workers on work visas. Despite these serious numbers, federal agencies continue to issue contracts to companies that continuously break the law, Gollan added.

“Our analysis shows that 20 percent of the tech companies and labor brokers penalized for H-1B violations since 2000 have actually won contracts for the government through small business administration loans,” she said. “The question here is are there enough checks and balances to prevent this practice?”

Learn more about the CIR investigation in the video above.

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