US will look into India’s concerns on visa fee hike: Obama assures Modi

U.S. President Barack Obama has assured Prime Minister Narendra Modi that his administration would soon look into India’s concerns over the recent move to increase visa fees, highly placed sources in the government told The Hindu.

Mr. Modi had a telephonic conversation with Mr. Obama after the President signed into law, on December 18 last, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, the sources said.

The Act, among other things, increased the fees for certain H1B and L1 applicants.

Both leaders discussed issues, including the bilateral ones like the visa fee increase, and the President assured that his government would soon “see what best can be done under the circumstances to limit the impact on the Indian tech industry.”

After the increase, the fees for certain categories of H1B and L1 visas have more than doubled, and according to Nasscom, the IT/ITeS industry body, the decision’s financial impact on the Indian technology sector would be around $400 million a year.

India (Indian tech firms) will be the most affected by the decision as it is the largest user of H1B visas (67.4 per cent of the total 161,369 visas issued in FY14 went to Indians), and is also among the largest users of L1 visas (Indians received 28.2 per cent of the 71,513 L1 visas issued in FY14). The CII, an industry body, had said the visa fee increase was discriminatory and punitive and was aimed at India and Indian-centric technology companies.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi decided last year to take initiatives — including efforts to resolve bilateral trade and investment issues — to increase the India-U.S. trade from the current $100 billion to $500 billion.

Issues related to tightening of the visa and immigration regime and the fear-mongering about American jobs going to foreigners have been part of the political rhetoric before presidential elections (including the coming one) in the U.S.

Industry sources say that since these visas are for short-term work, Nasscom has asked American lawmakers not to confuse it with immigration or spread the “myth that hiring of foreign tech workers is hindering employment of local professionals.”

Nasscom has said that due to skill shortages, unemployment in the U.S. tech sector is historically lower than the national average.

It is a myth that foreign talent is being hired at lower salaries in the U.S., it has said, adding that the Indian tech industry pays equivalent wages to U.S. nationals and foreign workers.

In its September 2015 report, ‘Contributions of India’s Tech Industry to the US Economy,’ Nasscom says India-based IT firms — providing services to American businesses and other customers — invested $2 billion between 2011 and 2013, paid $22.5 billion in taxes to the U.S. Treasury during that period, and supported over 411,000 jobs in the U.S. Also, over 120,000 Americans have benefited from philanthropic activities of Indian IT companies during 2011-2013.

On January 21, The Hindu reported that in the first backchannel diplomatic effort since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on January 12 notified the visa fee increase, a group of U.S. Congress Representatives held a meeting with Nasscom to ensure that such issues were amicably resolved. Significantly, the delegation of the Congress Representatives included Ami Bera, the only Indian-American Representative in the U.S. Congress and a member and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

Notifying the changes in the visa fees for certain H1B and L1 applicants, the USCIS had said they must submit an additional fee of $4,000 for certain H1B applications and $4,500 for certain L1A and L1B applications postmarked on or after December 18, 2015. The additional fees apply to those who employ 50 or more employees in the U.S., with over 50 per cent of those employees in H1B or L (including L1A and L1B) non-immigrant status, the USCIS said.

This fee is in addition to the base processing fee, fraud prevention and detection fee, the fee under the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (when required), and the premium processing fee, if applicable. The fee thus collected, likely to be over $1 billion every year, will be utilised to finance a biometric tracking system and healthcare requirements of 9/11 terror attack victims.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 11:53:31 PM |

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