Nursing home staffing company wins appeal in visa violation case

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A Missouri nursing home staffing company has won its appeal of a case that claims it violated a temporary foreign worker visa program.

Greater Missouri Medical Pro-Care Providers Inc., which provides therapists to nursing homes, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, hired workers from the Philippines through the H-1B visa program for foreign workers. The H-1B program requires employers to pay wages to workers when they become available for work, including studying for licensing exams or reporting for training.

A complaint filed by Alena Gay Arat, a therapist working for GMM through the visa program, alleged the company did not pay her the required salary while she and others in the program stayed in a company-paid apartment and studied for their licensing exam. Between arriving in the United States in February 2005, and beginning work in May 2005, Arat claimed she was not paid more than a $50 per week food stipend.

GMM also faced allegations of unlawfully requiring employees in the visa program to pay program fees, and threatening to collect penalties from employees who left the program early.

In a ruling released Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed an earlier decision by a federal district court, which ruled that GMM had violated several H-1B program requirements. The Eighth Circuit ruled that because the initial investigation was limited to only one issue — early termination penalties —  filed by an “aggrieved” party, damages could be sought from GMM only on that issue.

In 2013, a healthcare staffing company faced similar allegations of withholding wages and demanding fees from foreign workers placed in nursing home positions. In that case, the company's owner also faced criminal counts of forced labor, visa fraud and human trafficking; he received a 10-year prison sentence.