Barack Obama seals visa fee hike law despite Indian concerns

Washington, Aug 21 (Calcutta Tube) President Barack Obama signed into law a legislation to secure the US-Mexico border with $600 million raised by massively hiking work visa fees, ignoring concerns over a ‘discriminatory’ provision that will largely hit Indian firms, including Wipro, Tata, Infosys and Satyam.

Obama signed the bill in his Oval office at the White House Friday, a day after final Congressional approval of the legislation that he has praised as answering ‘my call to bolster the essential work of federal law enforcement officials and improve their ability to partner with state, local and tribal law enforcement’.

The measure’s $600 million tag would be paid for mostly by hiking visa fees on what the measure’s backers called a handful of foreign firms that ‘exploit’ the US visa programme to improperly import workers to the US.

A summary of the bill named Indian firms Wipro, Tata, Infosys and Satyam, which send thousands of employees each year to the US to work at their clients’ locations as technicians and engineers.

The legislation proposes to raise the fees on H-1B visas for companies who have more than 50 percent of their employees on such visas for highly skilled professionals from $320 to $2,320. Similarly the fee on L-visas given to multi-national transferees is hiked from $320 to $2,570.

The president argued that the new law would facilitate cooperation along the border between the US and Mexican governments, and asserted that it would make ‘an important difference’ in the push for comprehensive immigration reform.

The bill includes money for 1,500 new border personnel, a pair of unmanned drones and military-style bases along the border.

The Senate briefly suspended its six-week summer break to give final approval to the border security bill Thursday in response to Obama’s request for reinforcements on the Southwest border by passing the House version of the bill by ‘unanimous consent’ with just two lawmakers present.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, a lead sponsor of the measure who had branded Indian IT major Infosys as a ‘chop shop’ during the senate debate, offered up the bill, and Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin gavelled it approved.

But even after the final passage of the bill Thursday, the State Department maintained it was still talking to lawmakers about corporate concerns over the legislation.

‘Well, we’ll continue to work with Congress, I think, on this,’ spokesman Mark Toner said when told that the Congress had already passed the measure, which the US-India Business Council, representing 300 top US firms doing business with India, has warned could hurt burgeoning India-US economic ties.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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