The United States’ economy depends on foreign labor, provided by both immigrants and legal permanent residents, to help meet important business and financial needs. To accommodate these needs while maintaining firm control of the nation’s borders, Congress has established a legal framework under which immigrants may enter and remain in America.
Employers with needs for assistance in their businesses are able to advertise positions domestically and, if they are unable to find American workers to meet their full needs, can advertise internationally for foreign nationals to come to the United States to work.
Workers who come into the country as a sponsored employee may either work on a temporary basis (e.g. a seasonal employee working at a hotel during peak tourist season or a picker for particular seasonal produce) or on a more permanent basis (e.g. technology employees who move to Silicon Valley and hope to pursue a green card.)
To prevent the abuse of foreign workers, and to avoid the possibility that foreign workers will be cheaper to utilize than American employees, the United States government requires that employers accurately advertise the positions and attributes of them that are available to foreign workers. False advertising designed to deceive foreigners is fraud in foreign labor contracting, a serious federal crime.
Recent foreign labor contracting fraud cases have involved several types of false information provided to foreign employees. In many cases, employers have falsely made representations about the type of work that will be taking place or that someone will be studying, when in fact they will be working.
Other examples of foreign labor contracting fraud including failing to disclose that foreign workers are required to pay their employer for housing or misrepresenting the condition of the housing that will be provided to the employees. Similar schemes have also involved employers who required foreign workers to pay them for food and transportation, but failed to disclose this information in advance.
Another common example is foreign workers who are prevented by their employer from taking other jobs despite representations before they traveled to the United States that they would be able to work multiple jobs. Finally, some employers pay their employees less than the amount they promised and, in some cases, significantly less than the federal minimum wage.
In many cases, illegal activity in the deception of foreign workers occurs in conjunction with other federal crimes. For instance, the employer may have engaged in visa fraud by making false statements related to what the employees have been told and what their working conditions will be. And mistreating foreign workers may also be a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets wage and hour guidelines for employees.
A key element of cases involving foreign labor contracting fraud is whether the dishonesty involves a material aspect of the work that is advertised. Falsely describing the amount of satisfaction an employee will receive from their work is not illegal; misrepresenting the hours they will be required to work is a federal crime.
To discourage foreign labor contracting fraud, the federal government has set harsh penalties for those who engage in illegal behavior involving foreign labor and illegitimate visas. People found guilty of fraud in foreign labor contracting face five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 per count.
Visa fraud, the common corollary to charges of foreign labor contracting fraud, carries a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine on each count. Finally, wage and hour violations – which are typically part and parcel of foreign labor contracting fraud cases – can lead to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each violation.
If you or a loved one is facing an investigation or charges of fraud in foreign labor contracting, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Immigration law is complex, making expertise in this area – as well as broader experience in white collar crime cases – essential for a successful defense.
An attorney with knowledge and experience in foreign labor contracting cases can work with you to defend your legal rights, negotiate potential plea agreements with prosecutors, and – if necessary – present a strong defense before a judge and jury. As the investigation proceeds, you need a savvy legal advisor by your side.
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