Centre to flag H1-B visa curbs

Shackles abound:If the Bill becomes law, it could affect the fortunes of the Indian IT industry— FILE PHOTO: Mohammed Yousuf

Shackles abound:If the Bill becomes law, it could affect the fortunes of the Indian IT industry— FILE PHOTO: Mohammed Yousuf  

India is likely to raise its concerns in an upcoming meeting with the U.S., over a proposed legislation seeking to impose greater costs on firms that temporarily hire highly skilled foreign workers.

The development comes in the backdrop of the U.S. Presidential election campaign where claims of local unemployment due to immigration and outsourcing have become a topic of debate.

During the forthcoming U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum (TPF) meet, New Delhi is expected to take up the Indian IT industry’s concerns about the proposed ‘Protect and Grow American Jobs Act’ that was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in July.

The proposed legislation is also called the ‘Issa’ Bill as “the bipartisan legislation” was introduced by U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa, aiming to “stop the outsourcing of American jobs by companies abusing the H1-B visa program.”

The House Judiciary Committee is to vote on the Bill that is being opposed by the Indian IT sector (the main users of H1-B visas), the apex IT industry body Nasscom and the US-India Business Council (an advocacy body for boosting US-India business ties).

India had in March said it had initiated a World Trade Organisation dispute proceeding against the U.S. for increasing fees on H1-B and L-1 non-immigrant visas.

“The Issa Bill is a bigger issue than the (H1-B and L-1) visa fee hike,” USIBC President Mukesh Aghi said in an interview. “If it becomes a law, it will kill the Indian IT industry. We are campaigning with (U.S.) Congressmen and Senators to convince them not to support the Bill. However, it is election season and logic does not prevail.”

The current H1-B norms under the (U.S.) Immigration and Nationality Act require H1-B ‘dependent’ companies (those with over 50 full-time equivalent employees of which 15 per cent or more are on H1-B visas) to submit certain documents.

Troublesome paperwork

However, firms are currently granted exemptions to ease their documentation-related troubles. They need not go through the troublesome paperwork if the potential H1-B employee has an equivalent of a Master’s degree or higher and he or she is paid at least $60,000 annually.

The ‘Issa’ Bill aims to do away with the Master’s degree exemption (as “they are easily obtained by foreign workers”) and hike the minimum annual salary threshold from $60,000 to $100,000 with an inflation adjustment. The new Bill seeks to “make it much harder for firms to bring in workers at a salary that could undercut American jobs.”

Sources said the Indian government and the IT industry had taken up the issue with U.S. government officials and businesses at a meeting of the bilateral working group on IT & communication technology. However, they were told that while the U.S. government understands the concerns, nothing can be done to prevent the US legislators from bringing up such Bills.

Industry sources said they fear further tightening of the Issa Bill as some American politicians recently claimed that it had left loopholes that the H1-B users can take advantage of. Referring to the recent debate on the Bill which allowed the $100,000 minimum annual wage threshold mentioned in it included 'cash bonuses', some U.S. legislators said this provision could be misused as often, bonuses are conditional on some goals being achieved. This could mean that the H1-B user firms might get away with actual lower annual wages.

Also, some legislators have demanded a higher minimum threshold since average annual IT salaries in urban areas exceed $100,000 and could therefore lead to locals with higher salaries being replaced by foreign workers.

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