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Nasscom rejects H1B visa misuse claim

New Delhi, May 30: Nasscom — the forum that represents India’s information technology industry — today sent a letter to US Senators Charles Grassley and Richard Durbin dismissing their claim that top Indian companies, including TCS and Infosys, were misusing the H1B visa programme to displace qualified American workers.

Grassley and Durbin are the authors of a new legislation seeking to overhaul the H1B and L-1 visa programmes that has been tacked on to a comprehensive immigration reform law that is now before the US Senate.

The debate in the US shows all the signs of turning into an emotive issue before the US presidential elections next year — just as it did the last time round — despite reports of a bipartisan agreement on the legislation which seeks to raise the number of H1B visas to be issued annually by 50,000.

The H1B visa programme, which was launched in 1990, allows foreign scientists, engineers and technologists to be employed for up to six years in the US, at the end of which they must obtain permanent residency or return home.

Grassley and Durbin had sent letters to nine Indian companies — Infosys, Wipro, TCS, Patni, i-flex, Satyam, Larsen & Toubro Infotech, Tech Mahindra Americas Inc and MphasiS — to determine whether the programme was being used for its intended purpose, which is to fill a worker shortage for a temporary period.

In its reply to the US senators, the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) said H1B visa made good business sense for both countries.

Quoting from a 2006 survey conducted by the US-based Money magazine, the industry body said the rise in the number of H1B visas could not be linked to increased number of layoffs in the US.

Infosys has sent its reply to the industry body, said a spokesperson for the company and this has been incorporated in Nasscom's reply along with the replies of other individual software firms.

The firms felt it would be better if the industry body replied to the charges on their behalf — a view that was strengthened by the political furore in India over the letter from the senators.

Nasscom said two-way trade between India and the US had escalated with India buying more American aircraft, food, garments, computers and software. The argument isn’t much different from the one it advanced when John Kerry had turned outsourcing of jobs to countries like India into an election stump issue four years ago when he battled George Bush for the right to go to the White House.

“An overwhelming majority of the computers and software used by India's IT industry as also other sectors of the economy are those produced by US companies like HP, Dell, Microsoft and Oracle,” Nasscom said in its letter.

The largest outsourcing contracts from the Indian government and the private sector has also gone to US firms, it added.

Indian students now form the biggest group of foreign nationals studying in the US universities, spending an estimated $3 billion a year.

“These indicators of a growing trade relationship complement the excellent political and people-to-people relationship that exists between the two countries.”

The Nasscom letter also drew attention to the contributions made by H1B visa holders to innovation and entrepreneurship in the US, which had resulted in job creation on a large scale.

“These contributions have come from nationals of many countries, who have worked in the US under this visa programme; the Indian IT industry and Nasscom are particularly happy to note the contribution made by Indians.”

Moreover, H1B visa holders were paying taxes, social security and contributing to the local and national economy. Over the past two years, these companies had paid more than $300 million in government-imposed fees to fund a state department effort to combat potential fraud in H1B and L-1 visas.

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