US, Schengen visa lead
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denied H-1B specialty occupation visas to Indian graduates despite their subsequent employment at legitimate businesses. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

New York: Nearly 70 nationals have filed a lawsuit against the US government for denying them H-1B visas due to fraud committed by their employers, as reported by Bloomberg Law.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denied H-1B specialty occupation visas to Indian graduates despite their subsequent employment at legitimate businesses. A lawsuit was filed in the federal district court in Washington state this week.

According to the complaint, Indian graduates, employed through a training program for foreign graduates of US colleges and universities, were unfairly punished for their association with those businesses without having a chance to respond.

The Indians involved in the lawsuit worked for four IT staffing companies: Andwill Technologies, AzTech Technologies LLC, Integra Technologies LLC, and WireClass Technologies LLC. Each of these companies was approved to participate in OPT (Optional Practical Training) and was certified through the E-Verify employment verification program.

Many international graduates participate in the OPT program to start their careers in the US while attempting to secure an H-1B visa or other longer-term status.

The lawsuit reveals that DHS later uncovered the companies' scheme to defraud the government, schools, and foreign national students.

"Rather than protecting the students, however, DHS later sought to sanction them as if they were co-conspirators who knowingly participated in the fraudulent operation," Bloomberg Law said, citing the complaint.

Jonathan Wasden, an attorney from Wasden Law, who is representing the plaintiffs, stated, "The agency assumed that anybody who had been associated with these companies was somehow guilty of fraudulent misrepresentations to the US government in an attempt to obtain a visa or immigration benefit. DHS has to follow the process of giving the affected parties notice and the ability to respond."

The complaint mentioned the case of Siddhartha Kalavala Venkata, who expressed being in "complete pain" after learning that he couldn't enter the US. Venkata worked at Integra through OPT after completing a master's degree in 2016 at the New York Institute of Technology.

The company, listed as one of the largest participants in the OPT program, employed more than 700 student visa holders as recently as 2019. The company informed students that they needed to pay for training to further upgrade their skills.

Venkata left within months for a position with another IT firm and later attempted to change his status from an F-1 visa to an H-1B visa last year. However, DHS denied his H-1B visa, deeming him inadmissible due to fraud or willful misrepresentation, according to the news report.

"If I made a mistake, I would accept it. It was a mistake made by someone else. The US has provided me with many opportunities that I cannot utilize now," Venkata was quoted as saying in the report.

Venkata and others are asking the court to overturn DHS' decision on their visa applications and order the agency to allow them to respond to any fraud allegations before making a determination on their admissibility to the US.

The complaint stated that DHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act by exceeding its authority and deeming the plaintiffs inadmissible without a full record of the evidence.

The agency's actions were also procedurally deficient because it didn't notify the visa applicants of the action taken against them, the complaint said.

More than 117,000 people participated in the program in the calendar year 2022, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the DHS component responsible for running the OPT program.