INS drops charges against Indian H1 workers in Texas  

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Feb. 21, 2000 (AP) -- Immigration authorities have dropped deportation proceedings against 23 Indian computer programmers arrested last month during a raid at an Air Force base. Instead, authorities will investigate the U.S. companies that hired them.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service will try to determine whether two Houston companies -- Softech Consulting Inc. and Frontier Consulting Inc. -- skirted federal rules requiring Labor Department approval to move the Indian nationals to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio.

The Jan. 20 raid followed a six-month INS investigation into possible visa fraud.

INS district director Kenneth Pasquarell said the companies may have been involved in a type of visa fraud called ``body shopping.'' The practice occurs when firms tell the government they will place highly skilled foreign workers in jobs that don't exist and then send them to other cities.

In this case, Pasquarell said, the companies claimed the workers were in Houston and then later shifted them to San Antonio.

Calls to the companies were not returned.

The case has generated intense interest in India, where it has been widely reported, and in Silicon Valley, where many Indians hold a visa called the H-1B, which was created for those in specialized occupations, including computer programming.