US senate clears immigration bill, but Indian firms hopeful

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, washington
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  • Updated: Jun 29, 2013 01:40 IST

The US senate on Thursday passed an immigration reform Bill that makes it harder and costlier for Indian tech firms to use foreign workers on H-1B visas, at their US operations.

But the Bill is not law yet, and it may never become one in its present form, because the House of Representatives, the other chamber of US congress, is considering its own set of bills.

And they don't tally with the senate version.

In its current shape, the bill is bad news for India. And not only because of its impact on firms such as Infosys, Wipro and TCS. But also because it may trigger brain drain from India.

The passage by the senate was a significant achievement: previous attempts to reform the immigration system, widely considered broken from a long time, have failed.

Vice-president Joe Biden, who is also the president of the senate, presided at the voting, signaling the Bill's importance to the Obama administration.

"Today, the senate did its job," said President Barack Obama, who is currently touring Africa, in a statement. "It's now up to the House to do the same."

The bill has three central themes: strengthening border security, citizenship for 11 million illegals, and legal immigration revamp.

The third part, which seeks to overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes for highly skilled foreign workers, hits Indian tech firms such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro directly.

The bill also seeks to fast-track permanent residency — Green Card — for foreign students in science, technology, engineering and math courses. This will encourage Indian students, who are the second largest component of foreign students in the US, to come to the US and stay, depriving India of their skills.

And it will discourage those in the US from thinking of returning home — a trend that had begun picking up recently, especially for those stuck in immigration system.

“It is a highly imperfect bill and not good for India in many ways,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a leading advocate of smart immigration laws. “But it is good for Indian immigrants and students and for the US economy. It will slow the brain drain from the US to India.”


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