U.S Border security bill could strain U.S.-India tech relations

Just ahead of the August recess Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a $600 million border security bill introduced by Senators Chuck Schumer (D- NY) and Claire McCaskill (D- MO). The bill, according to McCaskill's press office, will "raise fees on a handful of foreign corporations that exploit U.S. visa programs to import workers from abroad."

"What a relief that the Senate is still capable of passing measures that are really needed without playing political games," McCaskill said in a statement.  "America must do a better job of securing our borders. This bill will help in a big way."

The bill targeted foreign companies in general, but specifically named those based out of India: Wipro, Tata, Infosys, and Satyam; and said they exploit H-1B and L visas to import foreign workers into the United States.

The bill aims to raise the fees on H-1B visas (for temporary skilled workers) for non-U.S. companies who have more than 50 percent of their employees retain those very visas, and would raise fees on L visas (given to multinational transferees) for foreign companies. Fees for these visas would rise by approximately $2,000 per application.

Today, Som Mittal, President of NASSCOM, a nonprofit group which represents Indian offshore trade development, issued a statement which said the bill is unjustly punitive to foreign companies.

"Indian companies use only a fraction (less than 12%) of the total number of H-1B visas issued each year. But U.S. companies, which use the bulk of these visas, would remain unaffected by the legislation," Mittal said. "This is simply unfair to foreign companies."

"In addition, the higher fees will have a negative impact on the substantial investment that Indian companies have been making in the U.S., will reduce the number of Americans that Indian companies employ and will lead to an increase in the off-shoring of technology endeavors that would have otherwise occurred in the U.S.," Mittal continued. "The legislation sends the message that foreign workers are not welcome."

Mittal today said that NASSCOM is working with the government of India to protest the legislation, and estimates that it could have as much as a $250 million annual cost to Indian companies.

The Senate bill which passed last night, meanwhile, will have to be approved by the House of Representatives before it can appear before the President to be signed into law.

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