India raises concern over US move to hike visa fees

New Delhi, Aug 10 (IANS) India Tuesday voiced concern over a new US proposal to sharply hike the visa fees for professionals, saying it is ‘discriminatory’ and will impose an additional burden of $200 million on its companies.

Commerce Minister Anand Sharma in a letter to the US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the move went against the commercial interest of Indian companies to undertake projects locally in the US.

‘It is estimated that the legislation will have an additional cost implication of over $200 million annually,’ Sharma said in the letter.

The Indian software industry estimates a financial burden of over $250 million due to hike in H1-B and L-1 visa fees.

The US Senate last week passed a bill hiking application fees for H1 B and L visas, the most sought after Indian IT professionals. The hike is proposed to fund a $600 million emergency package to improve security along the porous Mexican border.

The Senate measure increases the visa fee to $2,000 per application on those companies that have less than 50 per cent of their employees as American citizens.

The bill needs to be approved by the US House of Representatives and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

‘The legislation will also have an adverse impact on the competitiveness and commercial interests of Indian companies sending professionals to undertake projects locally for American customers in the US,’ said Sharma in his letter to Kirk.

Several Indian IT firms avail H-1B and L-1 visas in thousands every year to fly their software engineers to the US for working at their clients’ locations as on-site techies.

Terming the US legislation as discriminatory, Sharma observed: ‘Though the US need to strengthen its border security is understandable, it is inexplicable to our companies to bear the cost of such a highly discriminatory law.’

‘The Indian software industry is already deeply burdened in the absence of a Totalisation Agreement, requiring them to pay more than $1 billion every year to the US government in the form of social security, with no benefit or prospect of refund,’ he added.

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