By Bob Quinn Sussex County-The U.S. Department of Labor has fined The Home Mortgage Company of America, Inc. based in Hamburg and the company's president $84,000 for their illegal treatment of 14 non-immigrant workers. The company had recruited the workers while they were visiting the U.S. as tourists from the Philippines to work in job titles that included accountants, junior architect, credit analyst, systems administrators and market researchers, said Leni Uddyback-Fortson, a labor department spokeswoman based in Philadelphia, Pa. However, the employees did clerical tasks processing mortgages for weekly salaries that were $250 to $500 a week less than government standards required, Uddyback-Fortson said. The company and its president, Roland David, are charged with willfully failing to pay the workers wages required under federal law. Charges also include willfully misrepresenting job classifications in Labor Condition Applications used to obtain employment status for the workers under the H-1B program. The department also is demanding that the company and its president pay the employees a total of $513,037 in back wages. "Abuse of the foreign labor certification program undermines the integrity of the program and its goal of protecting wage standards for U.S. workers," said Corlis Sellers, regional administrator of the department's Wage and Hour Division's Northeast Region. David denied the charges and said he and his company would appeal. He also said the department did not take into account that he was providing housing and transportation for the workers. "Our objective has been to help," David said. According to the company's Web site, The Home Mortgage Company of America is a lending company with more than 75 years of experience in both residential and commercial loans. It provides services individuals and companies with mortgage and other lending needs, specializing in mortgages, refinancing, home improvement, purchases, debt consolidation, cash out for special purposes and establishment of line of credit. Home Mortgage had requested authorization to employ the 14 workers under the H-1B provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. That allows employment of foreign nationals for a temporary period to work in "specialty occupations" in the U.S. H-1B employees must be paid wages that are based on what is paid to similarly employed U.S. workers. The law also requires accurate specification of terms and conditions under which the workers will be employed, such as their job category. Sellers noted that the labor department's investigation determined that Home Mortgage had paid the workers significantly less than the prevailing rate for U.S. workers in the area of employment. The company recruited the employees to work in jobs that required salaries ranging from $600 to $1,000 a week, according to H-1B guidelines, said Uddyback-Fortson. Instead, Uddyback-Fortson said the employees were paid weekly salaries ranging from $350 to $500. The complaint against Home Mortgage and its president originated from several of the employees. The $513,037 in back wages that the department is seeking to recover covers a period from March 2001 to March 2004, although it varies based on the individual complaints. David said the labor department investigators did not take into account non-salary compensation, such as housing accommodations in nearby condominiums, transportation and health and life insurance. He also said six or seven of the 14 people hired under the program remain with his company. He said he employs a total of 36 people. David said he took advantage of the H-1B program because the financing industry is unique. "It takes four to five years to understand what we do, to help, to understand such things as bankruptcy. It takes time. This is a specialty," he said. He also said the employees were critical in assisting ethnic clients, who he described as Asians. "The sustained growth in Sussex County, New Jersey and the neighboring regions, coupled with the increasing challenges in the mortgage banking industry have allowed HMCA and its staff of lending experts to serve a wide range of clientele throughout the states of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania with their financial and lending matters," the company says on its Web site. "We are experts in identifying individual client's financial needs. We offer fast, sensible and flexible solutions to credit problems. We excel in the lending business BIG or SMALL including mortgage loans ranging from $50,000.00 and up to $10 million dollars." Because of the alleged willful violations, the Labor Department said it is also taking steps to block the company and its president from sponsoring additional foreign workers for employment in the U.S. The enforcement actions were detailed in a determination letter delivered on Aug. 6 by the Wage and Hour Division. According to the Labor Department's Web site, the recruitment provision of the H-1B programs requires these employers to make good faith efforts to hire qualified U.S. workers before hiring H-1B workers and to hire U.S. workers if they are at least as qualified as the H-1B workers they intend to employ. The H-1B classification was designed to help U.S.-based companies and institutions fill critical vacancies in "specialty occupations," according to the Web information site, About.Com. While high-tech usage of the visa has been significantly down over the last two years, use by medical institutions, higher education, elementary and secondary education has risen. Other occupational fields issued visas include architecture, law, accounting, entertainment and recreation, religion and theology and others. "There is some misconception that H-1B workers are cheap labor' -- yet nothing could be further from the truth. U.S. law requires that H-1B workers be paid at prevailing U.S. rates, and employers are paying top dollar for this specialized talent. In addition, employer-paid H-1B visa fees have generated $200 million for the training of U.S. workers," according to the About.Com Web site.