Indian MPs lobby US Congress over immigration reform

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Seven Indian MPs have travelled to Washington to lobby Congressmen about the comprehensive immigration reform act currently being debated by the US Congress. The MPs say that proposed changes to the H-1B visa system will cause considerable harm to the interests of Indian companies which operate in the US.

Under the proposed law Indian companies will have to pay much higher fees to employ non-US workers with H-1B visas and in some case will be prevented from applying for any more H-1B visas. They also say that the harm caused to Indian interests may be so great that the law has the potential to damage US-Indian relations.

The cross-party group of MPs were concerned about the provisions in the proposed law that would increase the fees paid for US H-1B visas by some Indian companies and prevent some others from applying for H-1Bs altogether.

The seven Indian MPs',Biju Janata Dal, Baijayant Panda, Supriya Sule, Bhakta Charan Das, Uday Singh, Partap Singh Bajwa Manicka Tagore and Prem Das Rai met members of the Senate India Caucus (a caucus is a cross-party group) Senator Mark Warner and John Cornyn. They also met members of the House of Representatives' Congressional Caucus Representatives Joe Crowley and Peter Roskam. They also held meetings on other subjects with other Congress men and women.

Proposed law could harm US-Indian relations

The Indian MPs argued that the proposals in the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act 2013 would not only damage US business but also US-Indian relations.

The proposed law was drafted by a group of eight senators now known as 'The Gang of Eight' and will, if it is passed, reform every part of the US immigration system. The provision that concerns the Indian MPs will increase the fees paid by 'H-1B dependent employers' for H-1B visas.

H-1B visas are temporary work visas that can be granted to degree level workers to work in the US in a 'specialty occupation'. The visas last initially for three years but can be renewed for a second three year-term. The US grants 65,000 H-1B visas to graduates each year as well as a further 20,000 to those with 'advanced degrees' such as PhDs and Doctorates.

Companies which operate in the US which want to bring staff from overseas can apply to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on their behalf. The H-1B visa is massively oversubscribed each year. This year, USCIS received over 100,000 applications within five days.

Most H-1Bs used by international outsourcing firms

Most H-1Bs are used by international outsourcing firms, many of which are based in India. Professor Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology has said, 'the top 10 recipients [of H-1Bs] in the last fiscal year were all offshore outsourcers. And they got 40,000 of the 85,000 [H-1B] visas – which is astonishing'. Most of these outsourcing firms are based in India. Among them are Tata Consulting, Infosys and TCS.

The proposed law would remove the cap altogether for graduates with advanced degrees and would raise the cap for those with normal degrees to 120,000 with immediate effect. That could rise to 180,000 in times of high demand. But it would also require that

  • H-1B dependent employers with over 50 staff will have to pay $5,000 per additional foreign temporary worker if between 30% and 50% of their staff were in the US with either H-1B visas or L-1 intra company transfer visas
  • H-1B dependent employers with over 50 staff will have to pay $10,000 per additional foreign temporary worker if over 50% of their staff were in the US with either H-1B visas or L-1 intra company transfer visas
  • H-1B dependent employers with over 50 staff will not be able to apply for any more H-1B visas at all if over 75% of their staff were in the US with either H-1B visas or L-1 intra company transfer visas. The 75% ceiling will be reduced to 50% by 2016.

'H-1B visas are not going to Microsoft'

Senator Dick Durbin, one of the authors of the reform bill, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May and said that the bill contained proposals to prevent abuse of the H-1B visa system by companies that use the visa to import cheap labour from overseas. He said 'H-1B visas are not going to Microsoft. They're going to these firms, largely in India, who are finding workers, engineers, who will work at low wages in the US for three years and pay a fee to Infosys or these companies.'

As yet, no Indian outsourcing firm has spoken out about these claims but it seems likely that they have requested this intervention from the Indian MPs.

Brad Smith of Microsoft told the Senate's Judiciary Committee in May that Indian outsourcing companies needed to 'evolve their business model' and 'focus on hiring more people in the US'.

The bill will be voted on by the Senate and the House of Representatives over the course of the summer and will require 60% support in both houses to become law.

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