US chamber of commerce bats for Indian IT cos in H-1B visa tangle

  • Yashwant Raj, None, Washington
  • Updated: Mar 21, 2015 14:00 IST

In a town teeming with hostile critics, India's IT firms may have found a willing ally in the US Chamber of Commerce - the nation's most powerful business lobby - a clear vote for the mix of Indian talent and cost-effectiveness that translates into profits for America.

The chamber has rooted for an expanded H-1B visa programme in a written testimony to a senate committee that held a hearing earlier this week in Washington on high-skilled immigration.

It has comprehensively countered every argument put forward by critics of the H-1B programme - whose intended target are largely Indian IT firms, such as Infosys and TCS.

Infosys and TCS were repeatedly named at the hearing, by both lawmakers and witnesses - and often accused of using the visas to displace Americans.

The chamber's written testimony did not name them or any other Indian firm, nor did it defend their business model. But it did make a strong, and larger, case for an expanded H-1B programme, which cheered up beleaguered Indian firms.

"The chamber's submission is very encouraging," said an executive at one of these firms requesting anonymity, "especially because our own association has been largely missing from action, and not seen doing much."

The chamber has basically argued that while every attempt must be made to create a workforce locally to feed the growing demand for STEM workers, "leaving jobs unfilled doesn't help businesses trying to create and retain jobs in the US."

There is an annual cap of 65,000 for H-1B currently, which some lawmakers, companies and experts believe is too low given the rising shortage of workers in highly specialised areas.

Others say the shortage is a myth, and that there are enough people available locally.

Senator Chuck Grassley, who heads the judiciary committee, set the ball rolling at the hearing with the most recent instance of American workers losing out to H-1B holders. He cited the case of power company Southern California Edison, which has laid off 500 workers in its IT department after contracting work to two overseas companies that are among highest H-1B visa users. He also cited a payment of $34 million by one of them in a civil settlement of a visa abuse case.

The two firms were Infosys ad TCS. And the recipient of that settlement, Jay Palmer, was one of the witnesses at the hearing. He repeated his charges that won him the settlement from his former employer Infosys, stirring up a row in which the chamber seems set to be a knight riding out to rescue Indian IT giants.

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