India moves WTO over US doubling visa fees

March 21
2:54 AM 2016

India has approached World Trade Organization (WTO) over increasing visa fees by the US. India and the US are clashing at WTO over visa fee issue for the first time. US visa fee for H-1B has been doubled to $4,000 and it's $4,500 for L-1 visa.

India earns over $100 billion revenues from sending software-skilled workers to the US and other countries. Indian software engineers are working in large numbers in the US and other countries in developing software and setting up computing systems while some Indian professionals are also engaged in repairing broken technologies. 

Bloomberg reports that US has doubled visa fees for H-1B on high-skilled workers, violating WTO's principles for fair trade. US, however, claims that the hike in visa fees is more about immigration than trade. There are increasing concerns in the US as low-cost employees from India, China and other countries are taking away jobs from Americans.

Ongoing US Presidential elections are making a furor over Indian software professionals in the US grabbing Americans' jobs. This has become a hot-button issue in the US Presidential elections campaign. Donald Trump and other candidates are opposing visas to Indians. 

The US has increased H1B visa fee by two times to $4,000. For L-1 visa, it's $4,500. India accounts for major chunk of H-1B visa quota. Indian IT majors such as Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services are applying for 65,000 H-1B visas every year. 

India's IT trade body National Association of Software & Services Companies (Nasscom) has estimated that visa fee hike would result in $400 million additional cost per annum. Shivendra Singh, vice-president and head of global trade development at Nasscom, said "The fees alter the playing field for our companies."

Nasscom claimed that the Indian IT industry has been targeted unfairly to fund unrelated US government programs. US has already hiked fees for some categories of temporary work visas five years ago. In December 2015, the US doubled visa fee for H-1B and L1 visas, according to Forbes.

However, the fee hike is applicable to companies with over 50 employees in the US and 50 percent of these workers are foreign nationals. The dispute with WTO is causing concern to India's exports. Several Indian IT companies send thousands of professionals to the US on temporary IT projects. The US contributes 61 percent of India's $108-billion IT revenues. 

Software firms have welcomed Indian government's decision to move WTO over US visa fee hike. There's increasing impression in the US that Indian IT industry is misusing these visas to displace skilled US workers. The issue has been a major one during the ongoing Presidential elections campaign. However, a latest probe by Department of Justice into these allegations didn't find any clue of misusing by Indian IT companies, as reported by The Economic Times.

CP Gurnani, Managing Director and CEO of Tech Mahindra Ltd, India's fifth largest IT firm, said visa charges hike could hurt American companies. Customers are expected to be benefited from industry support as they can trim expenses and enhance restructuring. The US Legislation is expected to be counterproductive, said Gurnani. 

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