NEW ORLEANS (CN) - An Indian welder said he sold his wife's jewelry and land on the promise of permanent residence in the U.S. during the first week of a trial highlighting the flaws in the national guest worker program.
Sony Sulekha, a skilled welder, addressed the jury through an interpreter during over two days of testimony. He said he inquired about a job with Signal International after he saw an ad that said employees could receive permanent residency in the U.S. for themselves and their families. At the time - in 2006 - Sulekha said he was newly married, with a baby on the way, and that the prospect of being able to bring his family along was appealing.
"I had two opportunities to work in other countries but my family couldn't come," Sulekha said.
A copy of the flier was shown to the jury. It called for "welders, fitters, fabricators and marine engine fitters" and in larger block letters said "Migrate to USA." In smaller letters below the flier said: "On green card/permanent residence visa in California/New Orleans" and "job guarantee provided for two to three years; earn from 4,000 to 5,000 US$ per month. Permanent lifetime settlement in USA for self and family."
Sulekha said in India he was "just getting by" financially. He earned less than the U.S. job was advertized for, and out of his wages he had to pay rent, the doctor bills for his pregnant wife and take care of his mother. After all that, Sulekha said he didn't have much left for savings and he thought in America he "would have a better financial life and a better working life."
Sulekha said he answered the ad and attended a seminar at a hotel in another town where he and approximately 500 other interested workers were shown photographs of a beautiful job site and pretty accommodations.
To be considered for the job, prospective workers needed to pay fees, Sulekha said. He didn't have any money at the time, but that he thought "it was a very good opportunity" to work for Signal International and he asked his wife to pawn her jewelry at the bank. Sulekha said his wife also took out a loan and sold a small parcel of land to pay the fees necessary.
In all, Sulekha paid more than $11,000 in fees and expenses to come to the United States and work for Signal international. Sulekha said it would take him years in India to make the amount of money he paid.
"This was a large sum of money, but I had this expectation I could come [to America] and live with my family for this sum of money," Sulekha said.
Signal International acknowledges the Indian workers it hired came to the United States on their own money, and on the false promise of permanent residency, but it says the lies and unfair payments were the work of their lawyers and of "unscrupulous" third party recruiters working for their lawyers, such as Sachin Dewan and Michael Pol.
Signal has brought cross claims against its lawyer and Dewan and Pol, saying they promised permanent visas without Signal's knowing. Meanwhile, attorneys for plaintiffs say Signal continued working with their attorney and those same "unscrupulous" third party recruiters, even after the lawsuits began to pile up.