Indian Group Pushes For New US Tech Visa

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Indian software industry association Nasscom says the U.S. Congress should consider changing laws to allow foreign workers in the United States for a limited amount of time

The Indian software industry association Nasscom is proposing that the U.S. Congress create a new category of visas to replace the increasingly controversial H-1B visas. As Nasscom sees it, Congress should create a “service” visa to allow companies to send workers to the United States for a limited amount of time. The new visa would not lead to immigration status or permanent residency.

Som Mittal, Nasscom’s president, told The Economic Times that the new service visa would be similar to the European work permit for overseas workers. Mittal added that he hoped the new visa would alleviate U.S. concerns over abuses in the visa process.

“We do not wish to encourage the abuse of visas for immigration. Our objective is to get the work done and bring back our people. There are 11,000 to 12,000 Indians who go to the U.S. for work and their average stay is less than two years,” Mittal said.

The H-1B program is a temporary work visa program allowing American companies and universities to employ foreign workers who have the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree in a job category that is classified by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as a “specialty occupation.” The program is particularly supported by the technology industry.

Critics of the program have long claimed that U.S. employers are using H-1B visas to hire workers for less than the U.S. prevailing rate, but the controversy gained serious traction after the government released a report that highlighted rampant fraud in the H-1B program. The report revealed a more than 20 percent violation rate by employers using the program.

In response to the report, Sens. Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, longtime critics of the H-1B program, introduced legislation attempting to reduce fraud and abuse in the controversial program. The bill does not seek to dismantle the program or change the numerical cap of visas available to petitioning employers.

The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act would require all employers wishing to hire an H-1B guest worker to first make a good-faith attempt to recruit a qualified American worker. Employers would be prohibited from using H-1B visa holders to displace qualified American workers. The bill would also prohibit what Grassley and Durbin call the “blatantly discriminatory” practice of “H-1B only” ads and prohibit employers from hiring additional H-1B workers if more than 50 percent of their employees are H-1B holders.

The two lawmakers introduced similar legislation in the last session of Congress but failed to rally support for the bill. The legislation seeks reforms to increase enforcement, modify wage requirements and ensure “protection” for visa holders and American workers.

“The H-1B program was never meant to replace qualified American workers. It was meant to complement them because of a shortage of workers in specialised fields,” Grassley said in a statement. “In tough economic times like we’re seeing, it’s even more important that we do everything possible to see that Americans are given every consideration when applying for jobs.”

The Grassley-Durbin legislation would also significantly beef up the government’s ability to investigate potential H-1B fraud. The Department of Labor, for instance, is only authorised to review applications for “completeness and obvious inaccuracies.” The department does not even have the authority to open an investigation of an employer suspected of abusing the H-1B program unless it receives a formal complaint.