Visa Sponsor Accused of Forced Labor

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Care Worldwide, a visa sponsor, charged foreign workers thousands of dollars in “training fees” for nonexistent jobs, put them to forced labor and threatened to have them deported if they complained, three Filipina college graduates claim in court.
     The workers – Isidra Tuburan, Rosalinda Quilario and Wendolen Almonte – sued Raina Massey, Jerry Sona, and Care Worldwide, in Federal Court.
     Massey, who claims to be a medical doctor, owns and runs Care Worldwide, a New Jersey clinical research site management company that purports to sponsor H-1B visa applicants for clinical research positions, according to the complaint.
     The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa which allows companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.
     Sona, Massey’s brother, runs the company’s Manhattan office, the workers say.
     “This action arises out of a scheme by which defendants defrauded the plaintiffs through false representations on immigration visa petitions and other immigration documents, and perpetuated said fraudulent scheme by threats of deportation and abuse of the legal process,” the complaint states. “Plaintiffs, who are nationals of the Philippines, possess at least a bachelor’s degree in the science or medical fields. Individual and corporate defendants induced the plaintiffs into relying on their representations that they would be sponsored as H1-B beneficiaries and made employees of corporate defendant, after they had collected immigration application fees and/or training fees from plaintiffs.”
     Massey falsely claimed that Care Worldwide was financially stable and needed to fill several medical and clinical research positions, according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs claim that Massey and Care Worldwide made them pay their own immigration application and attorney fees, charged them thousands of dollars in “training fees,” and lied to the immigration service and the U.S. Department of Labor about their proposed positions and salaries.
     They say that after their applications were approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Massey delayed giving them work, assigned them recruiter and marketing duties instead of clinical research work, and asked them to pay their own salaries.
     “Defendants knew at the outset that plaintiffs would not be employed as clinical/medical researchers, the H-1B positions plaintiffs were sponsored for, by defendant Care Worldwide, Inc.,” the complaint states. “After the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved the immigration petitions on behalf of the plaintiffs, defendants advanced their scheme of defrauding the plaintiffs by providing them advice that they needed to undergo training before they could start work as clinical or medical researchers and by further requiring them to pay training fees.
     “Defendants also threatened plaintiffs that if they did not pay the fees charged to them as training fees, and/or to continue working for defendants, defendants would cancel or withdraw their H-1B sponsorship, and that they would be deported to their native country. As a result of this campaign of fraud and coercion, plaintiffs remained in constant fear of the defendants and believed they had no choice but to obey their orders and pay the charged fees and/or continue working.”
     The plaintiffs, who live in Queens and Nassau counties, say they have bachelor’s degrees in biology, pharmacy and nursing.
     They say they learned of Massey’s purported H-1B sponsorships from New York employment agencies and from unidentified people who advertised the clinical research positions to language and business schools with foreign students.
     Massey used non-immigrants, including Filipinos and Indians, to recruit foreign workers to be sponsored for H-1B visas, the complaint states.
     Once Massey interviewed and approved a candidate for sponsorship, the women say, the candidate was required to pay at least $3,500 in “immigration application fees” and another $3,000 in training fees for the prospective jobs.
     They claim that Massey delayed filing the H-1B petitions after collecting the fees, sometimes for months, and in some cases never filed the petitions.
     After collecting the training fees for applicants who had been approved, Massey and her company often told them they did not have to attend the training, and that work was not yet available, according to the complaint.
     “When the H-1B beneficiaries demanded to start their H-1B employment, defendants would initially advise them that there was no work available yet,” the complaint states. “But when pressed later on as to the actual start date of employment, defendant Massey would shout at the H-1B beneficiaries, and would even threaten them that she could withdraw or cancel the H-1B petition, and that the H-1B beneficiaries could be deported.
     “Defendant Massey made these threats even though she and defendants were clearly violating the H-1B program by not providing the H-1B beneficiaries the promised employment.”
     The women say they were frightened by Massey’s threats, and needed to work to pay off the money they had borrowed from friends and relatives to pay Massey’s fees.
     “Defendant Massey made ongoing threats to, and in the presence of, plaintiffs regarding the arrest, detention and deportation of any H-1B beneficiary-recruit of defendant Care Worldwide who did not stop complaining about lack of work and improper wages,” the complaint states.
     “Defendant Massey told plaintiffs that they would be apprehended by immigration officers, detained, and deported if they left their H-1B sponsor and/or stopped working for defendants.”
     The women claim that out of about 30 applicants whose visa petitions were approved, only a few were asked to report to Care Worldwide’s Manhattan office, where they had to perform administrative, telemarketing and recruiting tasks, or were given no work at all. None of the workers were paid the promised wages, according to the complaint.
     Tuburan, whose petition was approved in June 2009, claims Massey offered to hire her as a clinical research associate, with an annual salary of $40,000, but used her as a recruiter of health-care professionals for purported clinical trials in India.
     She says Massey paid employees based on recruitment quotas, and threatened to cut their wages if they had no recruits.
     She claims Massey made her work as much as 60 hours a week, never paid her overtime, and delayed paying her for several months.
     When Tuburan complained about the situation and asked for back wages, she says Massey threatened to withdraw her visa sponsorship and have her deported.
     Tuburan claims that Massey often failed to pay employees properly and on time, and that some of her paychecks were returned for insufficient funds.
     In a similar account, Quilario says Massey asked her to pay $9,500 in application and training fees to be sponsored for a drug research associate job, with an annual salary of $53,000. After she borrowed money from friends to pay the fees, she says, Massey asked her to pay part of her own salary, because Care Worldwide could not afford to pay the promised wages as required under the H-1B program, but never gave her any work.
     She says Massey offered to start a green card application for her for another $15,000.
     The third plaintiff, who was promised a job as a clinical research associate for an annual salary of $49,000, says she paid similar fees, was asked to pay cash for her own salary and taxes, and never received any work.
     In January 2010, several employees left Care Worldwide and reported the defendants to law enforcement agencies, according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs claim that as a result of the defendants’ threats and coercion, they suffered emotional distress, including disrupted sleep, anxiety and depression.
     They seek compensatory, punitive and treble damages for violations of the RICO Act, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2003 and the Fair Labor Standards Act, breach of contract, fraudulent inducement and negligent misrepresentation.
     They are represented by Felix Vinluan of Woodside, N.Y.

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