The head of an IT staffing company has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison after federal investigators uncovered an H-1B visa-fraud scheme involving two Bay Area workers.
Anjaneyulu Katam, 46, “manipulated the H-1B visa program,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release. “Katam falsified visa applications, work experience documents, and work contracts, which he then submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of State, in order to secure illegal H-1B visas for Indian nationals,” the department said.
Katam, of New York, was also fined $5,000, and under a plea agreement will forfeit $1.1 million in assets — including strip malls and bank funds — acquired via visa fraud, the department said. Katam arrived in the U.S. from India in 1998 and became a U.S. citizen in 2009, according to a court filing.
The H-1B, obtained by employers, is awarded through a lottery and has become a flashpoint in America’s immigration debate. Large technology companies, including many in Silicon Valley, push to expand the annual 85,000 cap on new visas, while critics point to reported abuses by outsourcers, arguing that those firms and other IT staffing companies use the visa to supply cheaper foreign labor to companies.
The justice department’s press release noted that Katam’s visa fraud led to the illegal entry and employment of “several” Indian citizens. Federal prosecutors’ November 2017 criminal complaint against Katam shows he was under investigation with regard to nine foreign visa holders, including his sister-in-law.
Another Indian national who received an H-1B visa through one of Katam’s two staffing companies was described as a computer systems analyst in 2015 visa application documents, which specified — under penalty of perjury — that he was to work in-house at one of Katam’s staffing businesses, in New York, according to the complaint. But once he received the visa, the man, described in the complaint as “Beneficiary 8,” moved to Redwood City, and asked Katam to market him only to Bay Area IT firms, the complaint said.
“Katam told him he could work remotely until he could find him an actual contract,” according to the complaint. The man worked sporadically for Katam’s company, while interviewing with a handful of IT firms, according to the complaint.
“None of these interviews resulted in a job offer, so Beneficiary 8 began to market himself in order to find an end-client and an actual contract,” the complaint said. On his own, the man received a job offer from Samsung in San Jose, according to the complaint.
“Beneficiary 8 resided in the U.S. for months in violation of the law, and, in antithesis to the H-1B visa program, had to find his own employment,” the complaint said.
The federal allegations against Katam echo claims made by a former San Jose information-technology worker in a lawsuit filed in December. In that case, IT worker Fazlur Mahammad claimed the staffing company that employed him made him pay his own salary, and pay the firm $2,000 in fees for his H-1B visa and other federal paperwork, which by law must be paid by the employer.
Katam was found by federal investigators to have engaged in similar behavior. A man described as “Beneficiary 1” paid one of Katam’s companies $3,500 for the H-1B application, in violation of the law banning employers from making job candidates pay visa fees, the criminal complaint said.
Another man, “Beneficiary 6,” was instructed to pay Katam $2,500 for expedited H-1B “premium processing,” but Katam never submitted the premium processing application, the complaint said. That worker, along with others who received H-1B visas through Katam, ended up working at a location different from the one specified on the visa application, violating the law, the complaint said.
“Beneficiary 6” was, according to the H-1B application, going to work as a programmer analyst at the office of one of Katam’s businesses. An investigator who visited the office found it, like his other office, to be a probable “false business front” — an employee for the office building told an investigator that Katam’s business office held only a table and two chairs, with room for just one or two people, the complaint said. The visa recipient, interviewed by an investigator in San Francisco, said he had never done in-house work for Katam’s company in New York and never intended to move to that state, the complaint said.
In a pre-sentencing court filing, Katam, who is married with two sons, complained that the H-1B process was “too complicated,” and described the effects of the visa-fraud prosecution on his life. He lost his income, and all his friends avoid him, he said. Now, he’s burdened with debt, his reputation is ruined, his health is declining, and he has “no money for survival,” he said. “I don’t know how many days I had a sleepless night,” he said. “Some time (sic) I had a severe headache.”