Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor ordered Prince George’s County School System (PGCSS) in Maryland to pay $5.9 million in back pay and penalties to foreign teachers working on H-1B visas.
The H-1B program allows foreign professionals to work for U.S. employers for a temporary period of time. Employers that participate in the H-1B visa program agree to pay U.S. and foreign employees equally, with the salary being at or above the prevailing wage for the position.
PGCSS began participating in the H-1B visa program to fill math and science teacher positions when it was unable to find qualified U.S. teachers. In doing so, PGCSS required the foreign teachers to pay thousands of dollars to cover H-1B visa expenses. When the cost of the visa expenses was deducted from the wages paid to the teachers, the actual salary for the positions fell below the legally-required prevailing wage.
“H-1B employers basically have a contract to pay a certain wage for a certain period of time,” says Ryan Adair, MSEC’s Manager of Immigration Services. “They have to take payment of wages seriously.” Adair notes that PGCSS paid penalties of almost $2 million because it failed to correct the problem on its own.
The Department of Labor also found PGCSS to be a “willful violator” of federal immigration and labor laws and may debar it from participating in the H-1B and green card processes in the future.