Grassley Looking Into Corporate Abuse of Tourism Visas

An investigative report in the San Jose Mercury News exposing abuse of tourism visas to hire cheap labor has caught the attention of Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).


The newspaper’s investigation, “The Hidden Workforce Expanding Tesla’s Factory,” profiled Gregor Lesnik, a construction worker brought in from Slovenia to help build the new high-tech paint shop. Lesnik was seriously injured at the factory in May 2015.

In the wake of the report, Eisenmann, a German manufacturer of industrial systems hired by Tesla, said it would investigate allegations that its subcontractor ISM Vuzem paid a workforce of about 140 Eastern European men substandard wages. It added that its contract with Vuzem explicitly stated a $55 hourly labor rate, the paper reported.

Lesnik sued Vuzem, Eisenmann and Tesla, claiming he and scores of other Eastern European workers were brought to the U.S. on questionable visas and paid substandard wages, the Mercury News reported.

Two other Vuzem workers interviewed said they received about $10 an hour to work at the plant, the paper reported. The men arrived with B1-B2 visas, which broadly ban hands-on construction work.

Grassley said he is seeking answers from several federal departments following reports that some U.S. companies and foreign contractors are abusing tourism visas to sidestep worker protections and visa requirements.

In a letter to the Attorney General and the secretaries of the departments of State, Homeland Security and Labor, Grassley is seeking more information on the types of visas granted to the workers.

Grassley is also asking about a practice by the State Department that allows B visa holders to do work in the United States as if they had been granted H-1B skilled labor visas, and is seeking the legal justification for such a practice.  B visa holders are not granted the same worker protections that are required of companies employing H-1B visa holders.

“The manner in which the B visa program is being used and the absence of real oversight and enforcement is a shame.  Despite a long and undeniable history of abuse of the program to bring foreign workers into the United States under cover as ‘business visitors,’ regulations and field governance governing the program have not been updated in years,” Grassley said in the letter.

In 2011, Grassley investigated similar abuses of the B visa program in which foreign workers were illegally working in the United States. In a 2013 settlement agreement in another similar case of B visa fraud, the government alleged that the company in question knowingly employed B visa holders rather than using the standard work visa program to increase profits and minimize costs of securing the H-1B work visas.

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