NASSCOM, an Indian IT outsourcing trade group, takes to Capitol Hill to lobby against potential legislation aimed at reforming the H-1B visa process. While high-tech industries favor an expansion of the program that allows highly trained foreign workers to fill existing IT vacancies, recent scandals in the H-1B visa program have raised lawmakers' ire and a call for reform.
Officials from India's
National Association of Software and Services Companies, or NASSCOM, an IT
outsourcing trade group, worked Capitol Hill this week, lobbying lawmakers and
the White House about its "extreme concern" over H-1B visa reform
legislation that will soon be introduced in Congress.
"Last year, many changes were being proposed for H-1B use, including
how many American employees a company should have, and how many maximum visas
an individual company can have," NASSCOM President Som Mittal told
the Indian news organization Business Line
March 11. "These
proposals were put up in the past but not enacted because it is believed that
comprehensive reforms are required and not mere tweaking of individual
Leading the charge for H-1B visa reform in the 2007-2008 110th Congress were
Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,
who pushed for legislation increasing the fees on H-1B visas while not raising
the 65,000 visa cap. A Durbin-Grassley bill would have required employers to
make a good-faith effort to hire American workers first, and employers would
also have to show that the H-1B worker would not displace an American worker.
All of the bills ultimately failed, as lawmakers did not want to split off H-1B
reform from a larger immigration bill that was loaded with such explosive
political hot buttons such as border security and amnesty. That bill, too,
failed to win passage. Grassley is expected to introduce H-1B reform
legislation similar to his 2007 efforts by the spring.
"We are working closely with the policy makers in the U.S. Congress and
administration to ensure that the Indian IT industry is not disadvantaged in
any manner," NASSCOM said in a statement. "We had a healthy
discussion with Sen. Charles Grassley from Iowa
who is spearheading the H-1B legislation and will be working with him to ensure
that while we apprehend and stop any fraudulent use of H-1B visas, legitimate
business users are not affected."
Fraudulent H-1B visas are likely to be a hot topic in Congress when it takes
up visa reform. In February, federal authorities busted an alleged nationwide H-1B scam ring
arresting 11 people in seven states and bringing a 10-count indictment against
a New Jersey IT services company. The indictment charges Vision Systems Group
with one count of conspiracy and eight counts of mail fraud and seeks $7.4
million in forfeitures.
According to the Department of Justice, the scheme
involved hiring college-educated foreign workers to allegedly fill high-tech
jobs in Iowa when, in fact, the workers were sent to the East and West coasts
while being paid the lower prevailing Iowa wage rate.
"We [have to] actively raise the need for global collaboration if the
world is to come out of this economic downturn quickly. ... Nothing should be
done that seems attractive and populist in the short term, but will have a
long-term negative impact," the NASSCOM statement added.
NASSCOM said that only 11 percent of H-1B visas were issued to the Indian IT
industry last year.
A favorite of American technology companies,
the H-1B program is a temporary work visa program allowing American companies
and universities to employ foreign guest workers who have the equivalent of a U.S.
bachelor's degree in a job category that is considered by the U.S.
Citizenship & Immigration Services to be a "specialty
occupation." The idea is to help companies hire foreign guest workers on a
temporary basis when there is not a sufficient qualified American work force to
meet those needs.