Tata Consultancy Services
Since 2006, Tata Consultancy Services and its parent corporation, Tata Sons, have been in court battling complaints from non-U.S. citizens that the company made deductions from their wages in breach of their contract while they were working in the U.S.
This week, a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted class action status to the people who brought the lawsuit. One of the plaintiffs in this case was on an L-1 visa, according to court records. The L-1, which is used for intra company transfers, has been getting much more attention lately in Washington, and that could intensify with these lawsuits.
Business groups, including Indian outsourcing firms, are urging the U.S. to makes changes to the L-1 visa that may make it easier to use the visa. Opponents, including the AFL-CIO, call the L-1 visa "a black box" because policymakers know little about it, such as where L-1 visa workers are and what they earn.
The Tata case may provide insights. In the Tata case, employees complained about a practice that required them to turn over their tax refund to Tata. The lawsuit argues that this practice is against the law.
Sum is greater than the parts
Infosys, Tata and Larsen & Toubro are among five top users of H-1B visas. Each needs L-1 visas as well. The business models of each company are completely dependent on the work visa models. In each of the cases, employees are challenging a practice or behavior. That's how the American system works. Someone takes action in court, and then Congress and regulators step in. That's what will happen here.
The still unfolding legal cases are giving, or have the potential of giving, ammunition to regulators and policy makers that could hurt the ability of these firms to get visas.
At the same time, it is completely possible that the Indian companies may win each of the cases. The grand jury threat may disappear. Federal investigations may evaporate. But it is the sum and not any one case, that is greater than the parts.
The Indian IT industry, as it operates in the U.S., and not any individual company, is being and will be held to account. Unless the industry realizes that, it's headed for a fall.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.