Washington, Oct. 2: The deep cut of over 66 per cent in H1-B visas, which went into effect yesterday, will not have any significant effect on Indian computer professionals seeking work in the US.
But as the presidential and Congressional elections approach in 2004, the cut will assuage a constituency in America which was becoming a thorn in the side of President George W. Bush, who is increasingly being identified with three million job losses in the US since he replaced Bill Clinton.
Tom Tancredo, a Republican Congressman from Colorado, who introduced a bill in July to abolish H1-B visas, said yesterday that American employers seeking foreign workers had “found a new visa category, L-1, which is even better. There’s no cap on L-1 visas and few restrictions. It’s good for seven years, and there’s no way to determine if they (foreign workers) are coming here to replace US workers.”
In an interview published in Computerworld, he said: “We have seen a 58 per cent increase in L-1 visas in the last year while we have seen a corresponding decrease in H-1B.”
Tancredo may well be right. According to the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, only 56,986 H1-B applications had been approved as of the third quarter of 2003, although the ceiling for such visas was approximately three times that figure.
The Congressman lashed out at Indians in his interview and stopped short of accusing Bush of giving in to lobbies favouring the inflow of H1-B workers because the information technology sector was liberal with election funding.
“The President came out against my bill. The President was at a fund-raiser in Jackson, Mississippi, a little while ago and was asked about my bill by Indian IT workers there.
“He said he opposed my bill. He raised $1.5 million at this fund-raiser and the only place we found out about it was in an Indian newspaper. The industry will fight it like crazy, but we have established the goal line further down the field so they have at least stopped going for an increase.”
Meanwhile, John Mica, a Republican Congressman from Florida, has introduced a bill to restrict L-1 visas. A similar bill was introduced in July by another lawmaker, Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut.
But Tancredo compared the effort in these bills to “trying to stop a flood with a sieve. It is true we have a global economy, and it is going to be a difficult thing to control.... We cannot simply move all the jobs to India. I am sure there is going to be plenty of opposition. The President has not said what he is going to do regarding these two bills”.
L-1 visas are used primarily for intra-company transfers — that is, if a firm operating in the US has resources abroad, it could bring in those foreign workers for their expertise, training or for beefing up the management.