H-1B visa issue: Govt says in talks with US

Commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman says India will take up the H-1B visa issue with the US, steers clear of problems of individual Indian IT companies


Commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday steered clear of the allegations levelled by US against TCS, Infosys and Cognizant of ‘unfairly’ cornering the lion’s share of H-1B visas by putting extra tickets in the visa lottery system. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday steered clear of the allegations levelled by US against TCS, Infosys and Cognizant of ‘unfairly’ cornering the lion’s share of H-1B visas by putting extra tickets in the visa lottery system. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

New Delhi: Commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday steered clear of the allegations levelled by the US government against Indian IT companies Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS), Infosys Ltd, and Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. of “unfairly” cornering the lion’s share of H-1B visas by putting extra tickets in the visa lottery system.

“We are certainly talking with the US administration on H-1B visa issue. However, I am not talking about each of the firms that they are questioning,” Sitharaman said.

She said India is not questioning the sovereign right of the US to issue visas. “But in case of H-1B visa, after due discussion, a certain number, certain process, the way in which they will be issued are well understood between two countries. If there is any change in that, that is what we are talking about,” Sitharaman added.

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India has expressed concern over the rising trend of developed countries like the US, Australia and New Zealand to put curbs on the movement of skilled professionals. That primarily puts Indian technology companies that send thousands of computer programmers and consultants to work at client sites abroad in the cross-hairs, hurting their ability to serve customers and win orders.

On Thursday, Sitharaman had hinted at countermeasures against US companies if Washington took steps that adversely impacted Indian IT companies.

“It is not just that Indian companies are in the US, several big US companies are in India too,” she told reporters on the sidelines of an event in New Delhi, adding, “They are earning their margins, they are earning their profits, which go to the US economy. It is a situation which is not where only the Indian companies have to face the US executive order. There are many US companies in India which are doing business for some years now. If this debate has to be expanded, it has to be expanded to include all these aspects. We shall ensure that all these factors are kept in mind.”

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During his ongoing visit to Washington, finance minister Arun Jaitley held a bilateral meeting with his US counterpart, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, and raised the issue of H-1B visas for skilled professionals from India and highlighted the contribution which Indian companies and professionals are making to the US economy.

An unnamed senior official of the US government, while briefing reporters on the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order of President Donald Trump, said some companies like TCS, Infosys and Cognizant apply for a very large number of visas, way more than they need, by putting extra tickets in the lottery raffle, and corner the lion’s share of visas.

“And you’ve seen some of these high-profile examples where you have career employees at a company who have been working there for 10, 20 years, and then they get laid off and they hire a contracting firm using H-1B workers at much less pay. And again, this is an issue that labour unions have called attention to for a long time,” he said. The transcript of the briefing was put up on the White House website.

Information technology industry body Nasscom on Monday came out in defence of TCS and Infosys—saying the two accounted for only 7,504, or 8.8%, of the approved H-1B visas in 2014-15.

“Nasscom would like to clarify on the statements made by the White House on Indian firms getting the lion’s share of H-1B visas and highlight that in 2014-15, only six of the top 20 H-1B recipients were Indian firms,” it said in a statement.

Every year, the US grants 65,000 H-1B visas while another 20,000 are set aside for those with advanced degrees from the US.

The Trump administration wants to replace the current lottery system with a merit-based immigration policy. Any change in visa norms can affect the movement of labour as well as spike operational costs for IT firms.

PTI contributed to this story.

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