A new investigative report showed that Tesla Motors’ contract company, Eisenmann, paid a smaller Slovenian company, Vuzem, to hire foreign workers through the B-1 visa program. The companies misrepresented the foreign workers in order to obtain the visas so they could import cheaper, foreign labor instead of hiring American workers.
The B-1 visa allows foreign workers to enter the U.S. for temporary and limited work purposes, such as to join a conference or to supervise or train U.S. workers in a specialized skill. The visa does not permit the worker to perform hands-on jobs that U.S. workers can do and under this visa a worker cannot receive payment from a U.S. company. The visa can last up to six months and there is no set cap for the number of visas allowed each year, 6.2 million B-1/B-2 visas were issued in 2014.
The B visa, along with the L-1 visa, could displace thousands of American workers and depress wages if the United States ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
Gregor Lasnik, a Slovenian worker hired by Vuzem, has a pending lawsuit against Tesla Motors, Eisenmann, and Vuzem after being injured while helping to build Tesla’s new Fremont plant.
According to court documents Lesnik’s visa application included a letter written by Robert Keller, Eisenmann’s Chicago area-based U.S. purchasing manager, to the U.S. consulate stating that Lesnik would be working for a European subcontractor and had “specialized knowledge” to help build a new paint shop for BMW in South Carolina. The letter also assured that that Lesnik’s employment would “in no way adversely affect the employment of citizens of the United States.”
The visa application also included a hotel reservation in a South Carolina and titled Lesnik as a, “supervisor of electrical and mechanical installation”, even though he had been an unemployed electrician in his country and spoke only a little English. After being approved for the B-1 visa Lesnik was told he would actually be going to California and helping to build Tesla’s new plant.
This misrepresentation on B-1 visa applications has become a common problem, Infosys, an IT firm, was fined $34 million in 2014 for circumventing B-1 regulations among other offenses.
Overseas contractors use the B-1 visa to import foreign workers that will work long hours for low wages, even though it violates visa and labor laws. Lesnik says he was making the equivalent of $5 an hour while working on the Tesla plant. An American company had lost the Tesla contract bid due in part to higher labor costs.
“We have concluded that there is widespread abuse of the B-1 visa in the Bay Area,” said Michael Eastwood, assistant district director of the San Jose area office of the U.S. Department of Labor.
“It’s the wonderful world of unregulated visas,” said Daniel Costa, an immigration law and policy researcher at the Economic Policy Institute.
All three companies refused to comment on the pending legal case. Tesla and Eisenmann deny responsibility since Lesnik was directly hired by Vuzem.
Read more on this story at The Mercury News.