Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
US Labor Department obtains debarment, civil money penalty and back wages from New York City law firm in H-1B worker case
NEW YORK -- The Law Offices of Sergio Villaverde PLLC, a New York City law firm, has been disqualified from the federal H-1B program for a period of two years for willfully violating the prevailing wage requirements of the program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. The firm also has been ordered to pay a penalty of $2,250 and to pay one employee back wages totaling $31,954.
In 2003, the firm hired a nonimmigrant attorney from India as a full-time legal assistant and filed a labor condition application with the department under the H-1B program to allow the attorney to work legally in the United States. Sergio Villaverde, the principal of the law firm, personally attested that the firm would comply with the H-1B program requirements.
An investigation by the New York District Office of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division determined that the firm paid the legal assistant less than the required prevailing wage from Jan. 1, 2004, to June 30, 2006. Last year, a hearing was held before Labor Department Administrative Law Judge Jonathan Calianos. In his recent decision and order, Calianos ruled that the firm, having advertised its expertise in immigration law, willfully violated the H-1B prevailing wage requirements.
“Clearly, attorney Villaverde should have been well aware that his firm was violating the Immigration and Nationality Act by improperly paying the employee,” said George Ference, the Wage and Hour Division’s Northeast regional administrator. “This ruling should be a wake-up call to other employers of H-1B nonimmigrant workers to make sure they adhere to the letter of the law if they want to employ non-U.S. workers.”
As established under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the H-1B program applies to employers that hire non-U.S. workers in specialty occupations. The H-1B program helps employers that cannot obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce by authorizing the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the United States.
The H-1B regulations establish standards both to protect similarly employed U.S. workers from being adversely affected by the employment of nonimmigrant workers and to protect H-1B nonimmigrant workers. Employers must attest to the Labor Department that they will pay wages to the H-1B nonimmigrant workers at least equal to the actual wage paid by the employer to other workers with similar experience and qualifications for the job in question, or the prevailing wage for the occupation in the area of intended employment – whichever is greater.
This case was investigated by the Wage and Hour Division’s district office in New York City and was litigated by the Labor Department’s New York Regional Solicitor’s Office. For more information about the requirements of the H-1B program, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/immigration/h1b.htm.
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