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NASSCOM challenges US Senators on visa bill

NASSCOM challenges demands by two US Senators to curb the use of H-1B work permit visas to Indian information technology workers, calling it a protectionist measure that could only hurt American business interests, reports Narayanan Madhavan.

delhi Updated: May 30, 2007 21:49 IST
Narayanan Madhavan

The National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) on Wednesday challenged demands by two US Senators to curb the use of H-1B work permit visas to Indian information technology workers, calling it a protectionist measure that could only hurt American business interests.

The country's software association, which wrote to Senators Richard Durbin and Charles Grassley, said it was speaking for nine IT companies, offering to cooperate to find the truth and punish the guilty on their allegations that visas were being fraudulently used.

Last month, the two members of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration sent letters to the CEOs of nine Indian firms, including Infosys, Satyam Computer Services, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro, seeking from them details on their use of H-1B visas.

The Senators claim that Indian companies use the visas to stock their US operations with low-paid Indian nationals and violate federal regulations in the process. They say the firms use the visas to expose their workers to customer service in the US, easing the process of moving that work offshore and thereby displacing American workers.

NASSCOM said in a statement that its letter had particularly drawn attention to the specific clause in the Immigration Bill introduced by the two Senators that "prohibits companies from hiring H-1B employees if they employ more than 50 people and more than 50 per cent of their employees are H-1B visa holders."

"NASSCOM and the Indian IT industry clearly see this as a protectionist measure that will affect Indian IT companies, reduce the number of H1-B holders going to the US and reduce the competitiveness of the IT industry in the US," it said.

"It (the letter) highlights that H-1 B visas are beneficial to both, US and Indian companies, and also to the US economy. It also draws attention to the fact that many US industry leaders have repeatedly stressed the need to raise the H-1B visa cap, which was reduced from 195,000 to 65,000 two years ago," NASSCOM said.

It quoted a study by Money magazine to say there was no linkage between layoffs in US industry and H-1B visas, and pointed out that the visas were not restricted either to IT workers or Indians, despite the limited number.

About 20 per cent of the 65,000 visas were given to academic institutions, NASSCOM said.

The letter underlined that India was a major importer of aircraft, wheat and branded garments and accessories made in the United States, in addition to computers made by companies like Hewlett Packard and Dell.

"The largest outsourcing contracts from the Indian private sector, as also from the Indian government, have gone to US companies," the statement said, and also noted that Indian students studying in the US were spending about $3 billion every year.