On arrival in November 1997, he found himself in cramped quarters in a single-family home with 14 other programmers. He found that his initial salary would be $500 a month -- not the $1,000 a week he was promised -- and that $200 would be paid as rent.
He learned that his resume, the one officially submitted to U.S. officials as part of his visa application, listed training in several areas that he never had received.
"I saw this resume only after coming to the United States. When I saw it I was shocked for a minute, as it contained stuff that I never worked on. ... I was told not to worry about it, he said, "as it was done 'to get me here.' "
'On the bench'
Later, he complained to his boss about being "put on the bench," when a project in the Midwest came to a sudden end. A worker on the bench gets a reduced salary or none at all. Instead of performing a challenging job, the worker spends the day doing busy work, honing programming skills or trying to find a new assignment.
When the programmer complained, his boss was not happy.
"He said, 'I'll send you back to India. ... If you talk about this, I'll send you back,' " the worker said in a recent interview.
Though federal officials say benching is illegal, H-1B visa holders say the practice is common.
After months on the bench, the programmer began the complicated process of finding another job and the even more tedious task of getting a new company to sponsor him for a visa.
By summer he succeeded, moving on to a similar job in the Midwest. But the fight over his benching and unpaid salary, which he estimates at $10,000, goes on. He filed a complaint with the Department of Labor, but has been warned that the investigation could be lengthy.
"The alien software professional is viewed by the body shop owner as the goose that lays golden eggs," the programmer said, "and you don't have to feed the goose."
Another H-1B visa holder arrived from India last year after being promised a job in California. Instead, he spent months reporting to the office trying to line up work.
"We go to the company office every day and try to line up business. We get $500 a month plus the apartment, but no other money," he said. "They told me,'You don't want health insurance. It's just a pain in the neck.' "
He also was required to sign a contract. "They don't give it to you till the last minute. They tell you your flight is leaving in a half-hour. You don't even have a chance to read it.
"They put an advertisement in the paper. They'll promise to pay you, no matter what. It's all lies. You really don't know who you are going to work for."
Asked why he didn't hire a lawyer, he replied: "How can you hire a lawyer when you can't even pay for basic living expenses."
More than three months after arriving in the United States, he was sent on a paying assignment in New Jersey.
In fact, many H-1Bs live in fear of being sued. It is a fear that is well-founded.
Court records show that Mastech has sued dozens of former workers who tried to leave for other jobs. The lawsuits accuse workers of failing to comply with an agreement to stay with the firm for pe-
riods of one to two years. The lawsuits seek damages ranging from $10,000 to three months' salary.
John Brendel, Mastech's general counsel, declined to discuss the lawsuits.
'No big deal'
Among those Mastech sued was Roy Mani, who came to the United States in late 1997 after being recruited in India.
"They made me an offer but then kept me waiting for six months," he said.
When he got the call that a job was waiting, he was told he had to leave immediately. He was handed a document to sign, but had no time to read it.
The document was an employment contract under which he agreed to pay Mastech $10,000 in damages if he failed to stay with the company for at least 18 months and to give the firm at least six weeks' notice of quitting.
He was surprised by the agreement, he said, because in India, there are no restrictions on leaving a job. "They never said that if you sign this and leave, then we will sue you. They just told us we had to sign it. They said it was 'no big deal.' "
Mani said recruits have no idea what they are agreeing to, and that a disclosure requirement is needed.
Mani said he hired a lawyer, but the attorney told him it would be best to settle the lawsuit. He expects to have to pay $10,000 and the lawyer fees.
"It has happened to a lot of people. They [Mastech] don't care what your experience is."
He said H-1Bs feel helpless. "We cannot do anything."
Mani said his assignment for Mastech was in Omaha, Neb., where he worked for a communications firm at an annual salary of $48,000. He said he earned a little over $20 an hour, while Mastech was charging the firm $70 to $80 an hour.
He said he left because they kept playing games with his pay.
"I'd send them a time slip and they'd pretend they didn't get it. I'd send it again and they still wouldn't pay," he said. "I faxed it again and I still didn't get paid. I got angry and they started threatening me."