India lodges complaint against US H-1B and L-1 visa fees

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The Indian government has lodged a complaint about the US at the World Trade Organisation over the increase in US visa fees. India claims that the H-1B and L-1 visa fees are too high and discriminate against Indian IT firms.

"We are pursuing this at the consultation level. It is our hope we reach an amicable conclusion," a senior commerce department official in New Delhi said on 10 April.

India has sought consultations with Washington, which is the first step in the World Trade Organisation's complaints process. Consultations give each country an opportunity to discuss the issue and to find a solution without resorting to litigation. If they fail to agree on a solution, the next step to resolve the disagreement would be entering into full-fledged legal dispute. Indian officials have said they hope to resolve it amicably.

It is not known when the complaint was officially taken to the WTO, but Trade Minister Anand Sharma said he raised the H-1B and L-1 visa fee issue with US Commerce Secretary John Bryson on a visit to India on March 26.

India's complaint is directed at a 2010 US law that nearly doubled fees for H-1B and L-1 visas to $4,500 from $2,500 for firms with more than a 50 percent non-American workforce. The bill's sponsor, Senator Charles Schumer, noted at the time that the law was aimed at a small group of IT companies exploiting US law to import workers from abroad. The companies have denied the allegations and Indian industry officials called the legislation discriminatory.

"I think the government of India is right that this is a barrier to trade," said Vineet Nayyar, CEO of large Indian software services exporter Tech Mahindra. "I think by and large the Indian industry is taking for granted that this will continue and we're trying to see how we can manage it."

However, Nayyar said he did not expect H-1B and L-1 visa fees to be reduced and would need to either cut business costs or raise prices marginally to offset the fee increase.

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