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H-1B visa: Why is India quiet on US protectionism?

business Updated: Apr 24, 2013 01:38 IST
Yashwant Raj

India finds itself without friends on the US Capitol Hill when it needs them most, as its companies appear to be in imminent danger of copping the worst of the immigration reform bill.

A US senator accused Indian IT giants with big US operations - Infosys, TCS and Wipro - of misusing H-1B visas, needed for highly-skilled foreign workers.

"H-1B visas are not going to Microsoft; they're going to these firms, largely in India, who are finding workers, engineers, who will work at low wages in the US," said senator Richard Durbin, at a senate hearing on Monday.

He had listed out "these firms" as Infosys, Wipro and Tata. But the senator's views on these issues are known and, therefore, no one was surprised.

"What got me was the lack of support for India there - no one defended them," said a US official who did not want to be named.

Microsoft's Brad Smith, a witness at the hearing, said: "I personally think it's important that we both recognise the need for these firms to evolve their business model."

Infosys, TCS and Wipro are among the top recipients of H-1B firms every year - 5,600, 7,469 and 4,304 respectively in 2012. There is an annual cap of 65,000 on these visas.

These firms are expected to be hit hard by a comprehensive reform bill authored by Durbin and seven other senators - called the Gang of Eight - under discussion.

The bill argues that American jobs are being shipped abroad, and proposes to make it harder and more expensive for heavy H-1B users to bring in workers.

"Information technology services would be disadvantaged by such changes," Nirupama Rao, India's ambassador to the US, wrote in a recent oped in USA Today.

TCS, Infosys, and Wipro did not offer any comments.

Industry body Nasscom felt that the debate was being twisted out of context. "The Indian IT companies operating in the US follow all processes as mandated for the H-1B visa system," said Som Mittal, president Nasscom.

"The issue of skilled workers travelling for short duration is unfortunately being linked to the larger debate on immigration. It does not take into account the contribution of the Indian IT industry to the United States economy. The industry has added significantly to the US competitiveness ... and to the community," Mittal said.

Meanwhile, the impression gaining ground in the US is that India is not being heard adequately, possibly because there aren't enough people arguing on its behalf.

"Where are the opeds (other than Rao's)," asked a person familiar with the lawmakers on the Capital Hill are lobbied. "There are no organisations arguing for India."

(With inputs from Vivek Sinha in New Delhi)