Is the Indian techie's Silicon Valley dream about to come crashing down?

Atul Kumar, a computer engineer is a role model for IT engineers in Sitapur, his hometown in Uttar Pradesh. The 45-year-old, who holds a US green card, is living out what for many Indian geeks remains a dream.

"I went to the US in 1999 on an H-1B visa. Four years later I quit Infosys (which had sent him there), and joined Bank of America," said Kumar (name changed as he is not authorised to speak to the media), who now lives in New York.

There are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of such stories. And the success of the Indian IT sector is inexorably linked to the story of these professionals and their ticket to the US - the H1B visa.

But the proposed Comprehensive Immigration Bill, which seeks to control -among other things - the entry of foreign IT professionals into the US, if passed by the US Senate, can severely restrict the competitive advantage of Indian IT companies and kill the aspirations of many thousands of Indian geeks.

The new bill places restrictions on the iconic H and L visas used by Indian tech workers. Last year, 59% of all H-1B and 35% of all L-1 visas were issued to Indian nationals. And Indians have an enviable record with such visas: US embassy figures show that 90% of all H-1 cases result in the Indian getting the visa.

At present leading Indian IT firms have anywhere between 50% and 80% of their staff as H-1B or L-1 visa holders.  "At a broader level, I believe that operating models will need to change," said Phaneesh Murthy, CEO of iGATE, a mid-sized Indian IT firm, on the proposed US Immigration Bill. 

The new US Immigration Bill decoded

"The bill seems to be targeting a set of larger Indian IT firms such as the Infosys and Wipro and consequently seeks to make things difficult for them. It is creating an uneven field with favourable options for the local US firms," said Krishnakumar Natarajan, chairman Nasscom.

Infosys, Wipro and HCL Technologies refused to offer any comments.

India's commerce secretary SR Rao had recently written to the US trade representative protesting strongly against the H-1B visa restrictions proposed in the Immigration Reform Bill.

Senator John McCain (C) speaks as immigration reform legislation as outlined by the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight that would create a path for the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants to apply for US citizenship on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)


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