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US doubling H-1B visas but move may not help India

world Updated: Mar 22, 2013 01:31 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
US Senate

The US senate plans to double H-1B visas, which allow high-skilled foreigners to work in the US, and grant permanent legal status to foreign students in selected fields.

If that looks like good news for Indian IT companies — both Indian-owned and US-owned but based in India — it is. But only partly so, other problems will continue likely.

A bipartisan group of eight senators is working on an immigration reform plan, which could become the basis for a law, according to a US newspaper.

A large number of H-1B visas are brought by Indian companies with large US operations, such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro, who, they say in turn, have boosted their intake of local hires.

They have suffered recently in other ways, essentially because of the opposition to outsourcing. The fee for H-1B was sharply hiked by US congress two years ago.

And, more significantly, rejection of L-1 visas, required for foreign workers coming to the US on intra-company transfer. Indian companies have complained they have been targeted.

A Washington-based think tank found, using official data, approvals for L-1 visas was down by 28% for India in 2011, when there was a worldwide increase of 15%.

Indian government has raised these issues of fee hike and rejection rates with the US at every opportunity, with mounting frustration.

At one point, officials hinted they may take the issue to the World Trade Organisation, accusing the US of discriminatory trade practice in services. They haven’t yet.

The issue of permanent legal status for foreign students in specialized fields — mostly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) will be good news for some.