Indian IT industry body, Nasscom, has increased spending on lobbying against US visa changes by over one-third amid massive layoffs and curbs on US visas, including H1B and L1 visas. According to the latest lobbying disclosure reports, filed with the US Senate, Nasscom paid out $150,000 to its two registered lobbyists in the first quarter of 2017. Indian nationals unfortunately cannot come under the E2 Treaty Investor or E1 Treaty Trader visa schemes.
The fees spent represent a $40,000 increase when compared with the $110,000 paid to two lobbyists in the previous quarter ending December 2016. According to the lobbying disclosure report, the Lande-Group received $50,000 between January and March, 2017. This equalled the amount that was paid out in each of the four quarters of 2016.
However, a second registered lobbyist, Wexler & Walker – a branch of Hill and Knowlton Strategies, LLC – received $100,000 in the first quarter of 2017 compared with $60,000 over the last three quarters and a number of quarters stretching back several years.
US visas lobbied heavily
The lobbying disclosure report revealed that Wexler & Walker provides services for ‘specific lobbying issues’, which included those related to immigration and the US H1B and L1 visas. They tackled more general issues too, including tax and trade matters on behalf of Nasscom.
The Houses of Congress and federal agencies, which act as a lobby group for the $50 billion IT industry, that lobbied alongside Wexler & Walker is understood to include the US Senate and the US House of Representatives.
In recent months, the H1B and L1 visa categories have been targeted by the Trump administration for an overhaul. President Trump’s signing of the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order serves to make it harder for US-based Indian IT firms to recruit from overseas.
Meanwhile, the Lande Group took on the bulk of the activity for specific lobbying issues alongside several federal agencies. This activity included petitioning highly-skilled immigration, green cards, US visa processing, US-India matters, tax reform, (and) border adjustment tax.
Relations between India and the US have become increasingly strained in recent years, mainly over immigration issues. In December 2015, under the Obama administration, H1B and L1 visa filing fees were more than doubled.
India took the issue to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in May 2016 to discuss US visa fees. However, despite two days of consultations, the two countries were no closer to resolving their issues.
Aside from lobbying alongside the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Lande Group lobbied with the White House Office, the US trade representative, the US citizenship and immigration services (USCIS) and the departments of state, commerce and homeland security.
Nasscom attempted to engage US officials
Following failed talks in Geneva at the World Trade Organization, earlier this year Nasscom took a delegation of the Indian IT industry to the US in a bid to engage with officials of the Trump administration. The delegation hoped to discuss US visa crackdowns and ‘the flow of skilled labor between the two countries.’
During the visit, spearheaded by Nasscom president R Chandrashekhar, he said that the debate in the US surrounding H1B and L1 visas had become a political and emotive issue. He argued that there is a ‘chasm’ between the facts and fiction and that Indian IT firms contribute heavily to the US economy, while creating a wealth of jobs.
Chandrashekhar met with a number of US lawmakers, opinion builders, members of the think tank community and government officials to discuss H1B and L1 visa issues alongside other matters of importance.
Nasscom’s visit came amid the ongoing debate in the US over curtailing the use of H1B visas, which are widely used by major Indian IT firms. The US has accused leading Indian IT companies, including TCS and Infosys, of unfairly obtaining the bulk of the country’s H1B visa quota.
US officials claim that Indian tech organizations are ‘rigging the H1B lottery system’ by flooding it with extra tickets. However, Nasscom vehemently denies these claims.
However, following these accusations, Infosys has since announced plans to recruit 10,000 US workers. Some quarters believe this to be a rouse to appease the Trump administration, which continues to put the H1B visa program on lockdown to stop it being ‘abused’.
Nasscom’s lobbying costs soar
According to the lobbying disclosure reports filed for Nasscom, the Indian IT industry body paid out $400,000 to its two registered lobbying firms in 2016. The Lande Group has been lobbying on Nasscom’s behalf for seven years, since the third quarter of 2010. Meanwhile, Wexler & Walker registered as a lobbyist with the Indian IT body in October 2015.
In the past, Hill and Knowlton were registered as lobbyists with Nasscom from February 2003. However, this association ended in the first quarter of 2008.
The Indian IT body has actively been lobbying US immigration and technology, which matter to the country’s software industry, since it began lobbying. However, the expense associated with their lobbying exploits continues to escalate.
Having paid out $400,000 in lobbying expenses in 2016, year-on-year Nasscom’s spending has risen. In 2015, they paid out $270,000, in 2014 fees totalled $140,000 and $150,000 in 2013.
For 2012, costs amounted to $115,000, while in 2011 the total reached $75,000 and dropped to $40,000 in 2011. Stretching back further the lobbying disclosure report indicates that expenses in 2006 amounted to $60,000, $100,000 in 2005, $180,000 in 2004 and $200,000 in 2003.
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