The U.S. federal government this week announced a settlement agreement with Infosys with a record fine of $34 million — a penalty Infosys agreed to pay in settlement of the investigation related to its I-9 paperwork errors and H1-B and B-1 visa matters. There is both good news and bad news in this settlement. The bad news reaches beyond the Indian heritage firms and affects the entire industry, including multinationals as well as firms that hold GICs, or captives, or have international work.
The good news
From an Infosys perspective the settlement is good news. It allows Infosys to move on, and undoubtedly its management and stockholders are breathing a deep sigh of relief at finally being able to get beyond these immigration issues overhanging operations during the ongoing investigation. There were no criminal charges nor an admission to criminal activity as to the way it brought foreign nationals into the United States to perform work for customers, but Infosys agreed that it failed to maintain accurate I-9 records for many of its foreign nationals in the United States in 2010 and 2011 as required by law.
The settlement involves putting audits and other compliance proofs in place. These measures and the agreement finding no criminal wrongdoing will help Infosys to move on and will help resolve concerns of customers, especially those in the financial services space, which are very gun-shy of attracting any more regulatory scrutiny.
Although the $34 million penalty is a record fine, Infosys can be pleased that it is small compared to its earnings and will be largely immaterial on earnings.
The bad news
On the downside, I think the picture for the broader industry is clouded and even chilling. While Infosys is able to move on, the hoped-for relaxing of visa reform has not arrived. Instead, this settlement indicates that a more intense regulatory environment awaits industry players.
The record fine foreshadows ongoing scrutiny of the visas in general and indicates that the immigration authorities are taking, and in the future, will likely take a very narrow view of how service providers can use visas.
It’s interesting to note that the language currently governing the visas is quite ambiguous, and reasonable people could easily differ in their interpretation. But this settlement and record fine signals that a very narrow interpretation will be used going forward and that the government will use penalties to enforce the regulations.
The forceful, negative response of Congress and Senator Grassley’s reaction (“It’s time that the administration and Congress do more to rein in the fraud and abuse to ensure that both American and foreign workers are protected.”) to the settlement is another indicator of bad news for companies that utilize talent outside the U.S. Rather than celebrating a victory for compliance and the significant enforcement of of law, they are dissatisfied with the outcome and are calling for further regulation.
The Congressional reaction is ominous. It does not bode bode well for future legislation and certainly encourages the bureaucrats in the immigration service to take a very narrow view of visas going forward.