India's software industry body Nasscom has proposed a new category of service visas for the USA to replace the controversial H-1B visa category.
The service visa will enable companies to send their employees to the US on work for a certain period and it will not lead to immigration or permanent residency.
Nasscom has initiated dialogue with key Congressmen and industry groups, such as TechAmerica, Compete America and the US India Business Council, for the proposed change in visa. Nasscom is also encouraging a more comprehensive debate on the issue of immigration abuse rather than limiting it only to H-1B or L1 visas.
“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 11,000-12,000 Indians who go to the US for work and their average stay is less than two years,” said Som Mittal, president, Nasscom. He said the service visa, along the lines of the work permit that Europe currently has for overseas workers, would help address the concerns of H-1B visa abuse.
In April this year, US senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durban proposed a legislation to limit both H-1B and L1 visas and force firms with over 50% of their staff as H-1B and L-1 visa holders to hire US locals, sending alarm bells throughout the Indian IT industry. Nassscom’s move, if successful, will protect the interests of the Indian IT industry by allowing them to continue sending their employees to the US on service visas for the duration of the work. “There is a need to differentiate between matters of trade and immigration,” said Mr Mittal.
“The service visa will enable US companies to avail the best of Indian talent without worrying about immigration issues. It will not have residency or permanent citizenship implications,” said Ganesh Natarajan, vice-chairman, Zensar Technologies.
Technology firms, both Indian and multinational, are one of the largest users of H1-B visas. In the past few years, there have many unsuccessful attempts to restrict the use of H1-B visas through legislations that have proposed a limit on the number of visas that can be issued.
According to industry estimates, there are about 12,000 employees from Indian IT firms and 10,000 from American IT firms that go to the US every year on these visas.
This year, however, because of the slowdown and the reduced demand for technology services, only around 45,000 H-1B visas have been issued compared to the total available 65,000 H-1B visas. “Usually, the entire H-1B quota is filled up in a matter of days.
This year, there are only four months left to go and the quota is still not filled”, said a senior IT industry executive.