Indian workers were not promised green card, says Signal

March 12th, 2008 - 10:21 pm ICT by admin  

By Devirupa Mitra
New Delhi, March 12 (IANS) Signal International, the US firm facing charges of human trafficking, has said the protesting Indian workers were never promised permanent residency as they claimed. N.B. Jhambulkar, the Protector of Emigrants at Mumbai, has met Darrell Snyder, the general manager of Signal international, and Syed Mansur Rizvi of the Mumbai-based recruiter S. Mansur and Co. that was sending another batch of workers to Signal’s shipyards in Pascagoula in Mississipi and Texas.

The Signal official and the Mumbai-based recruiting agents later arrived in New Delhi to meet senior officials in the ministry of overseas Indian affairs (MOIA).

“He (Snyder) told us that the workers had been told clearly that their contract was purely temporary in nature,” said a senior MOIA official.

According to the Signal representative, the firm recruited a batch of workers through Dewan Consultants since 2006 on H-2B guest worker visa, which is valid for eight months. The workers were contracted for two visa terms of eight months each.

The company official told the MOIA officials that the US labour and immigration authorities routinely checked their premises and found them up-to-mark.

“He showed us documents showing that salaries of up to $50,000 had been paid to workers since 2006,” he said.

The MOIA officials noted that accommodation and food, for which the company was charging from the workers’ salaries, appeared to be of “good standard”.

According to the MOIA officials, there may be more to the issue than mere allegations of poor living conditions.

Following the suit filed by the Indian workers against the company, the officials said that the petitioners could apply for a T-VISA, which allows victims of trafficking to remain in the US on a temporary visa, leading up to a permanent residency.

Over 100 Indian workers March 6 walked out of the headquarters of Signal International, demanding better living conditions and fulfilment of the promise of a permanent residency status.

Since then, the matter has been snowballing into a major controversy, with Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi offering all help to the Indian workers, who have filed a class action against Signal and the recruiters, accusing them of human trafficking.

Chairman of the US House Education and Labour committee George Miller has written to Labour Secretary Elaine Chao, asking for more investigation into the allegations.

Incidentally, Signal had to face similar allegations March 2007, but it simmered down after visas were renewed for another term and hourly wages were increased by over a dollar to $19.15.

Miller has also asked for details of all H-2B applications and documents of the last five years of Signal International, Mumbai-based recruitment agents Dewan Consultants, S. Mansur and Company, as well as American manpower contractors.

The firm had plans to take about 120 workers and was in the process of getting their visa clearance from the US consulate in Mumbai, when the earlier batch of workers walked out of Signal’s premises.

After the March 2007 uprising, the company had not recruited any more workers through Dewan consultants and instead hired S. Mansur and Company for the next round of recruitment.

This round of recruitment process is on hold after the MOIA suspended the registration of the two Mumbai-based recruitment agencies.

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