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Stars and gripes

Kamal Nath ‘warned’ the US of an adverse impact on WTO if it tries to restrict the movement of skilled professionals of information technology (IT ) companies.

india Updated: May 17, 2007 23:15 IST

The government has done well to call the US bluff on H-1B visas. The Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath ‘warned’ the US of an adverse impact on World Trade Organisation negotiations if it tries to restrict the movement of skilled professionals of Indian information technology (IT) companies. The flap follows a letter written by Senators Charles Grassley and Richard Durbin seeking information from companies like Infosys, Satyam and Tata Consultancy Services about the utilisation of H-1B visas — the employer-sponsored, non-immigrant, temporary work visas for skilled employees. The senators’ move is based on concerns that Indian companies are ‘misusing’ the visas to displace qualified American workers.

It would be unfortunate if Washington’s policy on world trade and services, and the free movement of techies were fashioned by the jitters of xenophobic senators. That this should happen at a time when India and the US are discussing further liberalisation of visa regimes makes it even more ludicrous. It may be logical to reduce the annual limit of 65,000 visas for overseas professionals but this would ignore the real demand for labour in the US economy, and would harm trade in the IT industry.

In a world growing ‘flatter’ by the day, no country can afford to turn a blind eye to the importance of sourcing talent wherever they are produced most efficiently. The US is no exception. It is undeniable that global trade in goods and services has made US companies competitive and has helped bring down the US’ rate of unemployment to its lowest in history. The US should be thinking of introducing a new visa system for techies. Hopefully, the bipartisan support for increasing the cap among US lawmakers will be reflected in the proposed comprehensive immigration reform Bill, which is expected to double the current H-1B cap, with provisions for further increases based on market needs.