Last month, Shamoil T. Shipchandler, a partner in the Dallas office of Bracewell & Giuliani, received the Secretary of Homeland Security’s Meritorious Service Award (Silver Medal) for his role in exposing an illegal visa fraud operation.
Shipchandler, at the time a federal prosecutor, led a team of agents and support staff from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State in the investigation and settlement of claims against Infosys Corporation, a global consulting and IT services company based in India.
According to a statement released by the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Texas, the government alleged instances of Infosys circumventing the requirements, limitations, and governmental oversight of the H-1B visa program by knowingly and unlawfully using B-1 visa holders to perform skilled labor in order to fill positions in the United States for employment that would otherwise be performed by U.S. citizens or require legitimate H-1B visa holders. Ultimately, the case settlement involved Infosys paying $34 million, the largest payment ever levied in an immigration case.
The Texas Bar Journal recently spoke with Shipchandler about his role in the settlement.
How did you get involved in the case?
I received a referral from a colleague in Atlanta who told me that there was a lawyer who had information about a possible visa fraud scheme in the Eastern District of Texas. I put that lawyer in touch with federal agents from the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security so that they could determine whether there was any merit to the allegations.
How did you approach the case? What was your strategy?
The most critical part of any case, whether approaching it from the prosecution side or from the defense side, is a solid understanding of the facts. So our job was to understand the facts as best we could using all of the tools at our disposal, from subpoenas to interviews and everything in between. Once we felt grounded in the facts, we kept an open line of communication with counsel for Infosys so that we could discuss whether and how the facts constituted a violation of the law.
How was this case unique compared with others you have handled in the past?
The allegations in the investigation—specifically the allegations that Infosys was displacing American workers through false statements to consular officials and a misuse of B-1 visas—were intensely newsworthy and the subject of a passionate congressional debate. As we were investigating the case, Congress was simultaneously considering the allegations that it had heard about Infosys and was contemplating overhauling the immigration system. Infosys is a leading Indian company, one of the largest users of the American visa program, and one of India’s premiere success stories, so the investigation had the potential to adversely affect international relations.
What were some of the challenges of the investigation?
The size of the case and the number of documents that we needed to review were substantial, and we were limited by dwindling resources because of budgetary restrictions. For much of the investigation, the team consisted of just me and two federal agents. Potential witnesses were located all around the globe, and many were reluctant to speak with the government for fear of jeopardizing their future travel into the United States.
I would be remiss if I did not also identify as a challenge Infosys’s lead counsel, Stephen Jonas—and I mean that in a good way. Infosys had outstanding lawyers representing it during the investigation and throughout our negotiations. Jonas’s analysis of the law and the facts was thorough, reasoned, and capable, and we always maintained excellent communication. While we ultimately disagreed on how the law should be interpreted, we were able to forge a settlement agreement that satisfied both the government and Infosys.
Was there a moment when you realized that you had figured out an important component in bringing the case to a close?
In every case, there is a Eureka! moment where everything comes together, and Infosys was no exception. Our moment arrived when we determined that we could resolve the case through the civil complaint and settlement agreement in a way that would achieve the government’s goal while providing Infosys with a way to accept the result, thereby avoiding protracted and costly litigation.
You worked with agents and support staff from DHS and the Department of State. Tell me about that collaboration process.
I cannot say enough about the skills, talents, dedication, and diligence of the [government] team. Whenever I had questions, my federal agents, their support, and their agencies had answers. They traveled for weeks at a time to interview crucial individuals, they assembled piles of documents, and they were grounded in the principles of all of the applicable laws. We were wholly integrated in our efforts. I have said this before and I will say it again: the credit for the outstanding result is theirs. I was merely a conduit to channel their work.
While working on the case, did you learn anything that will help you as you move forward in your career?
There were many, many things that I learned during the course of the investigation and settlement negotiations. I learned from my team members; I learned from watching Jonas managing his team. If I had to choose just one key takeaway, though, it would be this: open lines of communication—and some mutual trust—can often lead to a just result. So a little bit of candor can go a long way.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sometimes, an important case needs the right time and place to survive and thrive. The Eastern District of Texas is, in my opinion, the best-run district in the country, and is willing to devote the time and energy to complicated and difficult cases. The U.S. Attorney’s commitment to the investigation was a key component in achieving the just result.
For more information about United States visas, go to https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas.html.