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Indians lobby hard for a slice of immigration pie

Washington, May 12 (IANS) From corporate America to Indian techies to Indian-Americans with family ties to their native land – all are lobbying hard to influence changes in the proposed immigration law that has started moving through the US legislative labyrinthine.

Concerned that some “aggressively protectionist” provisions in the bipartisan legislation proposed by the so-called Senate gang of eight would adversely affect US-India trade ties, a leading association of over 300 US firms doing business with India is engaging a lobbying firm as it once did to push the landmark India-US nuclear deal.

The US-India Business Council (USIBC) argues that the proposed ban and restrictions on client site placement of H1B and L1 workers respectively and a limit on their total percentage in a company’s workforce in the US would disproportionally affect Indian-born, highly-skilled workers.

The proposed caps on H1B visas will instead put a cap on economic growth in both the US and India, USIBC officials argue, and place the US at a relative disadvantage in the global marketplace driving away skilled workers elsewhere, including to Canada and Europe.

Noting that US-India two-way trade has crossed $100 billion, they suggest that the bill would drive a wedge between the two countries with “irrevocably intertwined economies” undermining economic growth for both nations.

The bill proposes raising the current base cap for H-1 B visas from 65,000 to 110,000 and eventually to 180,000 based on a formula that includes whether the cap is met each year and the number of unemployed high-skilled workers.

But it also imposes a hard limit of 50 percent on H-1B and L-1 workers that could make up a company’s workforce in the US from October 2016 onwards and increases the visa application fee from the current $2,000 to up to $10,000 for employers with more than 50 percent and less than 75 percent such workers.

Both USIBC and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), both argue that thus essentially targeting Indian firms operating in the US with restrictions or fees is contrary to the spirit of the US- India strategic partnership.

Concerned about the potential to apply new rules in a discriminatory manner against Indian companies, the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) too is planning to engage a lobbying firm to make its case on the Capitol Hill, the seat of the US Congress.

But in a dog bite dog business world, top US tech firms are waging a sophisticated lobbying campaign to make it harder for Indian consulting companies to provide temporary workers and instead “allow them to fill thousands of vacant jobs with foreign engineers,” according to a report in the New York Times.

With an advertising blitz bankrolled by senior executives from Silicon Valley, like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, “they have managed to secure much of what they want in the landmark immigration bill now pending in Congress,” the influential US daily said.

“Facebook’s lobbying budget swelled from $351,000 in 2010 to $2.45 million in the first three months of this year, while Google spent a record $18 million last year,” it noted.

But as the pool of high-skilled workers is still likely to come from India, the North American Association of Indian IT Professionals (NAAIIP) is pleased with new stipulations to increase the number of temporary high-skill H1B visas as it provides them greater employment flexibility.

Indian and Asian community organisations have their own concerns that the proposed legislation veers away from family-based immigration toward merit-based immigration. For example, it would eliminate the ability for US citizens to sponsor foreign siblings for green cards.

In a meeting last week with President Barack Obama, the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans including the South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), an umbrella body of 41 South Asian organisation bodies, focused on family reunification as critical to immigrant communities.

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