Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., part of an Indian conglomerate, is one of the top users of the H-1B visa program, with more than 16,000 petitions approved between the 2011 and 2013 fiscal years, federal records show. Former Tata workers say the company tried to collect fees from them after they quit. Many immigrant tech workers say they are bound to their jobs this way, despite a federal law banning companies from penalizing H-1B visa holders for quitting. But such bonding agreements may not be enforceable, even in Indian courts. 

Overseas manual

Indian workers hired for U.S. jobs received an employee manual explaining that they would be sued for up to $30,000 if they left before the end of their contracts. The company also threatened to withhold retirement benefits.

Restrictive contract

A 2003 Tata agreement required that an employee work in the United States for up to a year. The contract reinforced a strict company ban against leaving Tata before the end of the assignment.

 

Tata demands money

One former Tata employee received an email from the company demanding more than 500,000 Indian rupees – about $8,200 – for damages and an “overseas breach amount” after he resigned. The worker negotiated with Tata to reduce what he owed to about 300,000 rupees, or roughly $5,000 – a sum that the worker’s parents used their savings to pay.

Class-action lawsuit filed

Another worker alleged that after he gave Tata eight months’ notice that he would be leaving his job to go to school, the company demanded the equivalent of $10,000, threatened to withhold work papers necessary for getting a green card and sent letters to his parents in New Delhi. He didn’t pay and eventually joined a successful class-action lawsuit accusing the company of illegally keeping employees’ tax refunds.

Jennifer Gollan

Jennifer Gollan is an award-winning reporter for Reveal. Her investigation When Abusers Keep Their Guns, which exposed how perpetrators often kill their intimate partners with guns they possess unlawfully, spurred sweeping provisions in federal law that greatly expanded the power of local and state police and prosecutors to crack down on abusers with illegal firearms. The project won a 2022 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

Gollan also has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to shoddy tire manufacturing practices that kill motorists. Her series on rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry, Caregivers and Takers, prompted a congressional hearing and a statewide enforcement sweep in California to recover workers’ wages. Another investigation – focused on how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured on the job – led to tightened federal oversight of contractors’ safety violations.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian US and Politico Magazine, as well as on PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera English’s “Fault Lines” program. Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing awards. Gollan is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Matt Smith is a reporter for Reveal, covering religion. Smith's two-decade career in journalism began at The Sacramento Union in California. He went on to positions at newspapers in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Twin Falls, Idaho; Fairfield, California; and Newport News, Virginia. Between 1994 and 1997, Smith covered Latin America as a reporter in Dow Jones & Co.'s Mexico City bureau. For 14 years, he was a lead columnist at Village Voice Media in San Francisco. He came to Reveal from The Bay Citizen. Smith holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Before his career in journalism, Smith was a professional bicycle racer. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.