In February and March of 2016, ISC Constructors, LLC, the mega-million dollar electrical installation contractor founded and led by Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone and his brother Jerry, asked the U.S. Department of Labor for permission to hire three foreign citizens, each at a base salary of $56,000 a year, through the controversial H1-B visa system, according to public records uncovered by the Bayou Brief. At the time it made the applications, ISC had been in the middle of settlement negotiations with nearly 100 former employees, the majority of whom were Hispanic, who alleged they were not properly compensated for their work hours.
Ultimately, while all three applications were “certified,” Rispone’s company only obtained approval for one of the positions, which was titled Estimation and Projects Coordinator. Every year, the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) conducts a lottery to dole out a maximum of 85,000 visas to businesses, ostensibly to ensure they can fill jobs requiring a specialized skill.
While companies must assert it will not pay visa holders less than it would otherwise pay an American citizen, critics of the H1-B system assert that it is routinely abused by employers as a way to essentially outsource otherwise high-paying jobs, particularly in STEM-related fields, and that, in some cases, it is a form of modern-day “indentured servitude.” If an employer fires someone with an H1-B visa, that person must immediately return to their home country.
Although the system had been conceived as a way of recruiting “the best and brightest” to America, it became the focus of national criticism in 2016 after it had been revealed Disney had been granted nearly 200 visas for IT employees at DisneyWorld. A growing body of academic scholarship on the system suggests it undermines the U.S. job market and drives down wages.
As he ramps up his campaign for governor and prepares to spend at least $5 million of his personal fortune on advertising, Rispone has placed federal immigration policy, over which governors have very little control, at the center of his message. He has parroted the incoherent promise of Donald Trump’s fantasy border wall that voters had been told Mexico would pay for; he has advanced the patently false claim that Gov. John Bel Edwards turned New Orleans into a “sanctuary city” (the city’s police department is under a consent decree with the federal Department of Justice, signed during the Jindal administration), and he has bemoaned the outsourcing of high-paying jobs.
Two years prior to applying for the three H1-B visas, Rispone predicted to an industry trade publication that he would soon be forced to recruit skilled labor from “other states” due to a construction boom.
“Rispone says recruitment will include contacting those who were born, raised and trained in Louisiana, but who left the state looking for other work during the economic downturn,” writes Daniel Groves of the Construction Labor Market Analyzer.
“We are reaching out to specific individuals to let them know that there is work, that wages are comparable, and that we need them back at home,” Rispone told Groves.
Notably, while ISC Constructors is headquartered in Baton Rouge, it has offices in both Beaumont and Houston, Texas, and at the time he made the comments, his company had been in the middle of three major class action lawsuits: Beck et al v. ISC Constructors, Dicken et al v. ISC Constructors, Aguirre v. ISC Constructors LLC, all of which alleged ISC violated the Fair Labor Standards Act against a total of 96 of their employees in Texas.
All three cases were settled in mediation, with ISC agreeing to settle for an undisclosed sum.
According to the terms of the H1-B certification Rispone’s company received, the three-year visa expires in only two weeks, on August 15, 2019. The available record does not provide any personally-identifying information about the employee, though as a prerequisite for qualification, the visa holder must have at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and possess a specialized skill (usually in technology).
Rispone has never publicly explained why ISC could not hire a citizen of Louisiana for the $56,000 a year Estimation and Construction Project Coordinator job or revealed how much his company paid to settle allegations it underpaid employees in Texas.