In my earlier post H1B Bodyshop Bailout I shared some data that was the culmination of weeks of investigation into H1B bodyshops that received PPP loan money. In this post I will explain the history of this project.
Late last year, someone on Twitter had an idea to start a project to identify all of the bodyshops operating in the U.S., since this had never been done before. I thought it was a good idea so I volunteered to do Illinois since that is where I live. The technique used to find bodyshops was somewhat slow and painful, but after a few weeks I had a spreadsheet with a list of a few hundred companies. Surprisingly, the highest concentration of bodyshops was not in the downtown Chicago area, but rather in the suburbs, where both Schaumburg and Naperville had about 50 bodyshops each, and one building in Schaumburg (One Woodfield Place) contained nine bodyshops.
After I published the results on Twitter, months went by, then in May, I watched a Youtube video with Jay Palmer where he talked about bodyshops that he found had gotten PPP loans, which is something that had been rumored but there was no proof so this video was a revelation to me.
A month or two later, the SBA released the data including the names of all companies that had gotten PPP loans of $150,000 or more. I downloaded the data and started looking at the Illinois company names, pretty soon I found one of the Illinois bodyshops had gotten a $5 – 10 million PPP loan. I kept going through my list and eventually found close to a hundred of my bodyshops had received PPP loans.
At this point I was considering looking for bodyshops in other states that had received PPP loans but I didn’t have a nationwide list of bodyshops, until someone on Twitter mentioned there was a Youtube channel (Kumar Exclusive) that mentioned bodyshops receiving PPP which were listed on telugu360.com. So I started going through the thousands of company names on that list and writing about those companies on Twitter.
This was all well and good but it was still a slow, painful process to collect companies for my list. As a software engineer I like to automate boring tasks, so since I had just learned Python and was reading about data scraping in a Python programming book, I decided to apply data scraping to help me find more PPP bodyshops. Within a day or two I had a working script that scraped data about H1B dependent companies from myvisajobs.com and cross referenced it to the SBA PPP data to give me a list of hundreds of PPP bodyshops.
This was a great benefit to my research since I had a reliable list of company names that were bodyshops. However, I soon found that the algorithm by my script was missing a lot of companies because of small differences in the company names, so I began refining the algorithm.
It quickly became evident how popular the PPP program was among bodyshops, where at least one third of the almost five thousand H1B dependent companies shown on MyVisaJobs had received PPP loans. I wrote about dozens of these bodyshops on Twitter to expose the bailout money they had received and what was going on at these companies. A lot of what I found was shocking and I wanted people to know so they could share my outrage over this use of taxpayer money to reward criminal, fraudulent behavior.
Hopefully my research will help raise awareness of the problem of bodyshopping and shine a spotlight on these companies with the end goal of legislative and policy reform to reduce or eliminate these companies. Policy changes like the 50:50 rule proposed by Senators Grassley and Durbin would help limit the number of visas issued to bodyshops, and would be a good first step towards more meaningful reform.