I moved from Canada to Los Angeles (along with my wife) in early 2017, on a H1B visa to work in I.T. and virtualization for a medium-sized firm (technically, it's a firm run by one man, no board of directors etc.. let's just call it as startup). The job's does not appear to be a scam, the company's known in the area of California bordering LA where I work.

I got the job through an IT fair in the U.S. in 2016 and was told I'd have garden leave before I could start. I was effectively headhunted. I passed his interview tests, and had to sign a contract and read through about what the responsibilities of the job would entail, which included managing virtualization, virtual servers, Apache, linux, sudo etc.

However, I was threatened with being fired by the boss earlier this month after he told me:

John, you should not have been doing the virtualization, your job is really a sinecure. I just wanted to hire a few Canadians to make the firm look good. You're a likeable guy, but you shouldn't be working. If you continue to do any more work you'll be fired. Just come for the paycheck and enjoy... enjoy Los Angeles. Working is a violation of your contract.

(a sinecure is a "position without responsibility")

My boss also told me that I was not allowed to help with the newest project (which involves virtualization) and should only come in to work to clock in and out with my security card.

I've tried discussing this with him formally, but he will not discuss the issue with me and stonewalls me on this.

Is it unusual for someone to be offered a job on a H-1B visa, then told "don't do any work" and be told your job is a sinecure? Should I be looking for a way out?

closed as off-topic by Dukeling, mcknz, IDrinkandIKnowThings, gnat, Rory Alsop Aug 29 '17 at 9:14

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    Are they hiring other sinecures? – user1220 Aug 28 '17 at 20:26
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    @smith The problem is that in a few years time when this job ends, he'll have a great looking resume with a fancy title and lots of responsibilities, but zero practical experience. – Dan Pichelman Aug 28 '17 at 20:28
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    My concern is that you're being prepared as a potential scapegoat for something. If they're doing something illegal or unethical and get caught, you're an easy person to blame and you won't stick around to be a problem to them. Paranoid? maybe. But it's certainly a risk and stranger things have happened. – Chris E Aug 28 '17 at 20:49
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    @smith - he can't do any work which would otherwise be performed by someone who would get paid to do it. Even volunteer work can be a grey area for someone on an H visa. I believe it is ok for the OP to get another H-1B job at the same time though (and he'd be cap-exempt so this would be a quicker, easier process than the initial H-1B), but it may raise questions with USCIS & DoL as to how he can do both. – brhans Aug 28 '17 at 21:28
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    Apparently, they want to keep you around and don't want to fire you. So you can possibly not show up for work at all, or clock in early morning, leave, then come back in the evening to clock out. Use that spare time to do something else, such as taking up other work or updating your skills. The only problem here is you are not on home ground. You could do plenty of such My Rule-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours in your home country, but doing so on H1B could land you into trouble. Get a lawyer and look for loopholes. ;) – Masked Man Aug 29 '17 at 11:02

In order to keep your skills up to date, start doing some volunteer work in your spare time. You may want to contact an employment or immigration lawyer (or both) to see what your options are.

This smells like something VERY unethical is going on, and you need to protect yourself and your family. Be so clean that you squeak.

  • Find out what you are allowed to do at work
  • Find a charity that needs some help, and help them to keep your skills sharp
  • contact an employment attorney, or an immigration attorney who specializes in H1B employment.
  • Look to get out of there ASAP with the help and advice of your lawyer.
  • Say NOTHING about working to your employer about this again until your lawyer advises you to do so.
  • save every last penny you can, you may be in for a fight.
  • Why on his spare time? From what he says he might well be sleeping on his desk and his employer won't care. He could use that time for anything – smith Aug 28 '17 at 20:30
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    @smith because he wants to avoid "misuse of company resources". They might not care if he's sleeping, but they might if he's using resources AND their network, and possibly exposing the network to intrusion. he needs to keep his nose clean, and prepare to move on. – Richard U Aug 28 '17 at 20:33
  • Be careful with the charity work. If the OP does work for a charity which the charity would otherwise have to pay for then he's breaking the H-1B rules whether or not he gets paid for it. – brhans Aug 28 '17 at 21:29

There are several things in your post that make it seem like a legit job. For certain US government contracts, their quotes include a certain number of people working on the project. Because of this, there are times that the company working on the contract would hire people just to sit and do nothing if there is not enough work, only to avoid losing the contract (cheaper to pay 2 people to sit idle than not have the profit from the contract, big government contracts don't not make the most sense at times)

Since you are Canadian and your boss stated "I just wanted to hire a few Canadians to make the firm look good." he may be trying to get contracts with the Canadian government or firms and thinks having you on the payroll, even though you do nothing, helps the image of his firm.

If the above is true, there is an additional issue of just sitting around at work, the stagnation of skills and lack of development. That could hurt you much more than the money you would be making in future prospects. I would look for another job or push your boss to change his mind.

EDIT: As for the H1B, it is possible to work for other companies but you have to transfer the sponsorship of your H1B to the new company. Not unheard of to do, but also not as easy as just finding another company to work for. There is some USCIS paperwork that has to be done before you can start working for the new company. This may also be border line H1B fraud, however if you are being paid market rates for LA it would be harder to prove. If you are worried about that contact an immigration lawyer.

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    What about the H1B visa requirements? I know unemployed US citizens who would be fully qualified to clock in and clock out. They would have a lot of trouble with virtualization etc., but the OP is not doing that. – Patricia Shanahan Aug 28 '17 at 20:38
  • @PatriciaShanahan H1B visa holders have to have an employer sponsor of the visa. Since the company OP is working for holds the sponsorship, OP can only work for that company. UNLESS OP finds a company willing to take up the sponsorship of the H1B and fills out the proper paperwork. – RubberChickenLeader Aug 28 '17 at 20:41
  • Afaik parallel H-1B's are allowed, so the OP could have this one and another one at the same time. USCIS & DoL would probably ask questions though since he's probably supposed to be 'full-time' at both of them ... – brhans Aug 28 '17 at 21:31
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    @WindRaven The point I am making is that the OP's current H1B may invalid, because the actual duties of the job only require clock in and clock out. That has nothing to do with getting a different H1B. – Patricia Shanahan Aug 28 '17 at 22:20
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    "For certain US government contracts, their quotes include a certain number of people working on the project." - This is called contract fraud and defrauding the United States Government. – Donald Aug 29 '17 at 14:58

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