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For Indian IT Outsourcing Companies, H1-B Visa Is ‘Safe’ This Year

Indian IT outsourcing giant Wipro is one of the top five users of the H1-B immigrant worker visa. Photographer: Namas Bhojani/Bloomberg

India’s major IT outsourcers have little to worry about during this year’s lottery for the H1-B immigrant worker visa, the country’s officials told reporters after a recent trip to Washington. Next year, however, will be a different story.

Indian info-tech firms like Infosys, Wipro, HCL Technologies, Tech Mahindra and Tata Consultancy Services are largely dependent on the constant flow of software engineers from India, mostly under 35 year old tech workers looking for a shot at life in the U.S. for three years. Some in the Indian lobbying community in Washington call the H1-B the “most toxic” visa on Capitol Hill.  The visa is often despised by American software engineers who say they are being replaced by younger, foreign workers willing to work for less. Some 70% of the 85,000 H1-B visas issued annually go to Indians, and more than half of them are working for the IT outsourcers, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services which manages the visa petitions.

Indian government officials are in Washington lobbying on behalf of their IT sector this week.

“There was a sense that there is a recognition of the contribution of the Indian tech sector.  They are concerned with the immigration issue…most of the issues are quite different,” Indian Commerce Secretary Rita Teoatia told reporters at a news conference in Washington. Her remarks suggest that she was given reassurances of the visa’s future, but not reassurances on how Indian multinationals would be treated under sweeping immigration reform laws expected to come under President Trump.

The IT sector accounts for roughly 9% of India’s GDP. The IT sector make up 15% of the MSCI India equity index. The IT services trade is an important part of India-U.S. relations. Companies like Infosys derive more than half of their annual, global revenue from the United States.

H1-B visas holders are rewarded, by and large, through a lottery system. Opponents of increasing the visa pool argue that the visa, designed to bring in workers with special skills, is now being abused to keep a steady flow of software engineers into the U.S., often at the detriment of American-born workers and recent graduates with computer science degrees. Proponents of the visa say that it helps them find global talent and bring them to states where that talent pool is much smaller than it is in high tech regions like Silicon Valley and Boston. The USCIS also renews visa applications for another three years. The government agency says it does not know how many H1-B visa holders are employed in the U.S. at this time. Roughly 300,000 petitions are filed annually to bring in foreign workers.

See:  What ‘Bleeding Heart’ Silicon Valley Really Worries About Regarding Immigration  — Forbes

The Economic Times of India reported that Teoatia met with Commerce Secretary William Ross and members of congress to discuss the visa part of the services trade which helps the American economy to be more competitive.

President Trump said he wants to bring in the “best and brightest” and reform immigration law to a more merit-based system. This would suggest that the H1-B is not as toxic as some in India believe. Nevertheless, immigration lawyers expect an eventual tightening of the existing policies, which require the Indian firms to provide evidence that they cannot hire an American citizen to do the job.

Billionaire private equity investor Wilbur Ross is now the Commerce Secretary of Donald Trump. Ross met with Indian officials recent to discuss what one lobbyist referred to as the “most toxic visa in Washington”.  Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

In January, Iowa Republican Charles Grassley introduced a bill in the Senate to reform the current H-1B and L1 work visas that requires evidence that the new foreign hire is not displacing an American citizen within six months prior and after the hire. In separate legislation, two congressional leaders — House Republican Darrel Issa and Democrat Zoe Lofgren, both of California — are also considering salary minimums. Median salaries for H1-B visa holders in 2016 was around $77,000, according to USCIS.

And on March 2, a bipartisan group of four lower house members, including Silicon Valley Democratic representative Ro Khanna, introduced their own version of the Senate bill.

“We have skilled, high-tech professionals here in America. Many are unemployed and carrying the debt of advanced degrees. Some businesses, by ‘in-sourcing’ and exploiting foreign workers, are abusing the visa programs – undercutting our workforce to reap the rewards,” says New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell, one of the bill’s authors. “Abusing the visa system to get cheap labor hurts the American middle class and is something I cannot accept. The critical reforms in this bill will support American workers and create safeguards against the exploitation of visa workers.”

See: Trump Immigration Reform A Major Headwind For Indian IT Outsourcers — Forbes

A day after, USCIS came out with a note saying that 2018 H1-B applications were being temporarily suspended. This doesn’t mean there will be no H1-B visas issued next year. The government is looking to catch up with processing older applications and is suspending premium processing starting on April 3. The suspension is good for as long as six months and means no new petitions may be filed in that period. Most lawyers start their filings in September. Applications are due end of March.

“There’s been a quiet lobby effort for the expansion of the visa program even under Obama, but there is not a lot of congressional support,” says Gregory Palakow, a partner and chair of Archer’s Immigration and Homeland Security Group. “I don’t expect Trump to knee-cap H1-B, but I don’t expect an expansion either. And if we find proof that the IT outsourcing companies are rejecting American workers to hire foreign ones then we will have a big problem, but no one has really looked closely at that. Maybe if someone can influence Trump on immigration reform and he accepts the argument that these skilled workers are good for the U.S., then you’ll see an expansion.”



Find me on Twitter at @BRICBreaker

Article source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2017/03/05/india-it-outsourcing-h1b-immigrant-visa/

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