Rolling a loaded dice

India, it seems, finds itself without friends on the US Capitol Hill when it needs them the most, as its companies look in imminent danger of catching the worst of a hotly-debated new immigration reform Bill.

The new immigration Bill, being discussed in the US, targets Indian firms on behalf of their local competitors who are unable to compete for a fixed pool of foreign workers. There is an annual cap on H-1B visas — 65,000 — and Indian firms corner almost half of them.

US politicians have long held that Indian IT firms operating in the US use H-1B visas to bring cheaper IT workers from India, and then eventually ship those jobs out of the US. India has argued that these provisions are discriminatory and the Bill erroneously treats temporary relocation of skilled workers to provide on-site services as an immigration issue.

The mood in the US, however, appears different. The Bill’s principal authors and other lobbyists have accused Indian software services firms of misusing H-1B visas to offshore US jobs. But that is not all that matters. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the stringent anti-India proposals in the Bill were introduced on behalf of US tech firms.

Indian IT companies and their lobbyists have long been saying that but the Journal now cites lobbyists for US tech companies, taking credit for those provisions. A US-based company with more than 75% of its employees on such visas will be prohibited from bringing anymore. And that cap will be lowered to 65% in 2014 and 50% the year after.

With Indian firms struggling with their caps, so goes the argument, the move will benefit US tech-firms. US firms have maintained that they get squeezed out by thousands of applications Indian companies file, eventually cornering more than half the H-1B visas granted.

The fears of Indian tech firms, which have fuelled aspirations of millions of middle-class Indians, aren’t unfounded. It’s a trade issue, in short. Any restrictions on non-immigrant visas should apply uniformly to all applicants. Action specifically targeting Indian companies may not be in accord with the growing strategic partnership between the two democracies.

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