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India trade group chief criticizes proposed H-1B bill

Patrick Thibodeau | June 29, 2009
Nasscom's Som Mittol says Grassley-Durbin bill could push more U.S. IT work offshore

FRAMINGHAM, 26 JUNE 2009 - Many in India's IT industry are calling pending U.S. Senate legislation that would restrict the use H-1B visas protectionist and anti-competitive, according to Som Mittol, the president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), an Indian trade group.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Idaho), would limit the number of H-1B and L1 visa workers to 50 per cent of a company's U.S. workforce. Such a limit would likely impact top Indian services firms like Infosys Technologies, which on March 31 employed 8,900 employees in the U.S. with H-1B visas, and 1,400 with L-1 visas, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. In an interview with Computerworld last week, Mittol argued that Indian firms are trying to hire more U.S. workers, but face myriad obstacles -- especially when they compete against top U.S.-based firms for the most talented workers. He warns that the legislation could prompt U.S. firms to move more work offshore.

What specific parts of the Durbin-Grassley bill are most troubling to you?

The bill was intended to prevent fraud and misuse and we fully support any measure that would do that. However, instead of focusing only on that, [the bill] has put a condition that any company with more than 50 employees [in the U.S.] -- if more than 50 per cent of the employees have H-1B and L1 visas, they will not be entitled to any more visas.

The majority of [Indian] companies that operate here have significantly more [than] 50 per cent of their workers on H-1B/L1 visas. Hence this bill would mean that we won't be able to get anyone over. That is the killer provision. If this bill gets passed it will completely disrupt our business model. It will also impact our customers, because it will cause problems at all those projects that need a physical presence. And clearly, since it would seemingly impact our ability to compete in the U.S. with other service providers, it is an indirect trade barrier and would be seen as protectionist measure in our country. Putting up a restriction like that is clearly impacting only Indian companies.

Japanese automakers reacted to criticism some 20 or 30 years ago by building assembly plants here and hiring American workers to build cars. People look at your success in the U.S. and wonder why Indian firms don't increase their presence in the U.S. and hire more U.S. workers. Are their concerns valid?

In the Japanese example, the entire manufacturing process was happening in the U.S., so they could hire those permanent workers. [In our case,] the majority of the manufacturing happens in an offshore center somewhere. People come here on a temporary basis. There are positions that could be permanent, such as sales and solution architects. And clearly the choice would be to hire locals because they understand the environment and they understand the customers.


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