The U.S. Department of Justice charged a Redmond CEO with visa fraud last week, saying he hired more than 100 foreign workers over several years by using falsified documents to apply for visas commonly used by workers in the high-tech industry.
Pradyumna Kumar Samal is the chief executive of two technology firms in Redmond, Divensi and Azimetry, that act as contracting firms for big tech companies in the region, hiring engineers and assigning them to projects at the client companies.
The Justice Department’s charges against Samal, filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, allege that he made use of a tactic called “bench-and-switch” to get the high-tech, or H-1B, visas approved. The case focuses on 137 approved visa applications that indicated that a worker was needed for a specific project for a client, and included letters apparently from the clients confirming this.
The federal government’s case alleges these projects did not exist, the letters were not actually written by the clients, and Samal included the invented projects in the applications to improve the chances of quick approval.
When the worker got to the U.S., he or she would usually be assigned to a different project than the one listed in the visa application, the court documents say.
Samal’s lawyer, Diane Butler at Davis Wright Tremaine, disputed the agency’s claims. Butler said companies’ project needs often change between the time an H-1B application is filed and when the worker starts, so they may end up working on a different project than what the company originally intended.
Butler said that the investigation and charges against Samal “reflect 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.”
H-1B visas are highly competitive and sought after in the tech industry. The three-year work visas, which allow companies to bring in foreign workers with high-tech skills, are limited under an annual quota and are subject to a lottery each year. Big tech companies have advocated for reform of the system in recent years, calling for more annual spots and criticizing some information technology outsourcing firms for hiring visa holders at lower salaries and often dominating the annual lottery.
Divensi filed 390 applications for H-1B visas in 2016. That was the fifth-highest application tally in Washington state, ranking it behind Microsoft, Amazon and outsourcing companies Infosys and HCL America. On its website, Divensi lists many big tech companies as customers, including Microsoft, Amazon and Tableau.
Samal is believed to have been instrumental in the “bench-and-switch” scheme, according to the department’s case, which says he regularly reviewed application material before it was submitted and instructed his employees to “market” the potential visa holders to other clients.
The executive was arrested at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Tuesday as he got off an international flight, according to the Department of Justice. He fled during the investigation, the agency said.
Butler said the executive did not flee the country but rather traveled to India on business, and then returned home.
Samal appeared to get pushback from a client after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), part of the Department of Homeland Security, started investigating Samal. The CEO of a client company used in the application letters emailed Samal after USCIS contacted him, according to the case.
“I received this email from the Visa office asking if I signed this,” the email from a CEO, identified in court documents as V.K., reads. “I did not. I don’t even know who this resource is. This is concerning? Pls advise on how this happened?”
In a news release about the case, the Department of Justice said workers applying for the visas were required to pay Divensi and Azimetry a partially-refundable fee, which sometimes reached $5,000, for the two companies to sponsor the application.
The applications discussed in the court case are from the period between 2012 and 2015. The government is continuing to investigate additional applications from 2016 and 2017.
Seattle Times reporter Matt Day contributed to this report.