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US Senate's outsourcing ban is just the tip of the iceberg

Eight more bills are pending in US Congress on curbing use of foreign workers, reports S Rajagopalan.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2004 00:54 IST

The US Senate's measure against outsourcing of jobs under government contracts is only the tip of the iceberg. There are as many as eight bills pending in the US Congress that seek to curb the use of foreign workers, be it through outsourcing, or the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes.

All these bills introduced over the past several months are pending with the judiciary committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives. But this being the election year, lawmakers are widely expected to press ahead with their bills in the coming weeks and months.

One of the bills has been sponsored by Senator John Kerry, a Democratic presidential aspirant. It aims at foreign call centres handling customer support work for many US companies. Kerry wants the call centre operators to identify themselves and their location, a move that could exacerbate the backlash against outsourcing.

Among other bills is the one by Representative Tom Tancredo, seeking abolition of H-1B visas. Last October, the US slashed the number of H-1B visas from 195,000 to 45,000 a year, but this lawmaker says nothing short of outright abolition will do.

Then there is Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro's bill, which proposes strict curbs on L-1 visas. Co-sponsored by eight other members, the bill has proposed a cap of 35,000 L-1 visas annually and payment of prevailing US wages to L-1 workers so as to discourage displacement of American workers.

All these bills have a vital bearing on India, more than any other country. For India, with its qualified and cost-effective labour pool, happens to be the biggest beneficiary in all the categories, be it outsourcing, H-1B visas or the L-1 programme.

The measure approved by the Senate against outsourcing in federal government contracts has, on the face of it, a limited life -- till September-end. But then, there are real fears that unless the American economy rebounds and enough jobs are created locally, the provision will be renewed.

George Voinovich, the Republican Senator from Ohio piloted the amendment, has strongly defended his move. As his Press Secretary Marcie Ridgway put it: "The Senator's reasoning is very simple: jobs that were previously done by American citizens for American taxpayers should not be shipped overseas to be done by people in other countries."

His bill has been stoutly opposed by the US Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. They feel the Voinovich amendment could undermine the ability of American companies to compete with overseas rivals.

First Published: Jan 25, 2004 00:52 IST