US House passes border bill amid India anger
The US House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation to toughen US-Mexico border security, amid anger in India at the steep increases in work visa fees proposed to pay for the new measures.
The measure, unveiled 90 days before November mid-term elections, aims to add another 1,500 agents and deploy more unmanned aerial vehicles that scan the frontier for undocumented immigrants or illegal drug runners.
The House, called back from a month-long break to adopt an emergency spending package to help cash-strapped states, passed the border measure by voice vote.
The legislation’s 600-million-dollar price tag would be paid by raising fees on what the measure’s backers called a handful of foreign firms that “exploit” US visa programs to improperly import workers to the United States.
A summary of a Senate version of the bill named Indian firms Wipro, Tata, Infosys and Satyam, which fly thousands of employees each year to the United States to work at their clients’ locations as technicians and engineers.
India’s National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has slammed the bill, warning it would boost annual US visa costs for India’s outsourcing industry by 200-250 million dollars annually.
S. Gopalakrishnan, chief executive of India’s second-largest outsourcer Infosys Technologies, told reporters late Monday he was “saddened and disheartened” by the step and said the sector would lobby strongly against it.
India, which already holds at least 50 percent of the global outsourcing market, has become the world’s back office where Western firms set up call centers, number-crunching and software development outlets to cut costs.
But the 50-billion-dollar industry also sends skilled workers to the United States to develop software and direct projects for US clients.
The Senate passed its version of the bill unanimously last week but, because of a constitutional requirement that revenue-generating bills must originate in the House, must now approve the House-passed version before it can go to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
The Senate is in recess until mid-September.
The measure includes money for 1,000 new US Border Patrol agents to form a “strike force” for quick deployment, 250 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as well as 250 new Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry, and to boost communications among law-enforcement officials.
The bill, first unveiled by Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Claire McCaskill, would also pay for building forward operating bases along the border as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to patrol the border.
A summary of the bill said the funds would be raised with a 2,000-dollar per visa increase in the price paid by specific companies for non-immigrant “H1B” visas for highly skilled workers or “L” visas for intracompany transfers.
The current visa fee is 2,500 dollars.
“We’re talking about foreign companies that more than half of their employees” are on those visas, said Schumer. “This is not going to affect American manufacturing. This is not going to affect American jobs.”
The press offices of Schumer and McCaskill did not answer requests for comment on anger in India at the proposal, which comes as the country prepares to host Obama later this year.
With anti-outsourcing anger stoked by high US unemployment, critics denounce the Indian firms as “body shops” because they provide Indian professionals to US companies rather than employing Americans.
“We think it (the bill) goes against the notion of free trade and is discriminatory,” India’s third-largest outsourcer, Wipro, said in a statement.
US high-tech firms such as Microsoft, which bring skilled immigrants into the United States on the same visas, would not be hit by the bill as US citizens make up the vast majority of their workforce.