Nasscom lobbies for H-1B workers ahead of Trump India visit

(Image: The New York Times)

Nasscom, India’s largest IT industry group, has accused President Trump’s administration of discriminating against Indian workers seeking H-1B visas, as it embarks on a last-ditch lobbying effort ahead of the president’s visit to India this month, a Financial Times report says.

Debjani Ghosh, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies, has asked to meet with Trump’s delegation when it comes to India on Feb. 24.

According to a Feb. 16 Financial Times report, Nasscom has also implored Prime Minister Narendra Modi to challenge the president over his crackdown on H-1B visas, which companies in the U.S. use to bring in skilled foreign workers for a limited number of years.

In recent years, the Trump administration has sought to clamp down on what it sees as the abuse of the America’s H-1B scheme by foreign IT companies, enforcing tougher requirements for getting a visa, such as prioritizing applicants with U.S. degrees.

Nasscom, which has nearly 3,000 companies, including leading IT companies such as Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro, argues that the move has disproportionately affected Indian companies.

“We’re at a loss trying to figure out why we’re seeing the kind of discrimination when this is actually benefiting the U.S.,” Ghosh was quoted as saying, arguing that Indian workers help to fill a vital skills gap in the U.S.

Under the Trump administration, Indian IT services companies saw rejection rates drastically increase in 2019. According to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data, as a result of more restrictive Trump administration policies, denial rates for H-1B petitions have increased significantly, rising from 6% in FY 2015 to 24% through the third quarter of FY 2019 for new H-1B petitions for initial employment.

In 2018, the top six Indian IT firms had received about 16% of the total visas issued. In 2019, there were only two Indian companies among the top ten visa recipients, which got 1,966 visas compared with 8,898 for the other eight firms.

According to the FT report, critics of the visa in the U.S. had long complained that the IT firms were using the visas to hire cheaper Indian employees instead of Americans. Indians make up about 70 per cent of workers on H-1B visas in the US.

But Nasscom counters, according to the FT report, that most H-1B visas are actually taken by U.S. firms such as Microsoft or Amazon, and that they enjoy higher approval ratings than the Indian companies. Around 80 per cent of H-1B applications from the likes of TCS and Infosys are approved by U.S. immigration authorities, far below approval rates of as much as 99 per cent for the American tech giants.

The FT report said that stricter H-1B rules have already dented profits for Indian IT firms, with brokerages Kotak saying last year that the additional U.S. visa costs were likely to weigh on earnings before interest and taxes.

Nasscom is lobbying the two sides to treat the movement of skilled Indian workers under the H-1B scheme as a trade issue, asking that it be separated from the president’s broader concerns about immigration to the U.S.

“We just have one request to [our] government, which is — talk to him, make him understand the importance of high-skilled talent mobility,” Ghosh was quoted as saying. “We have to ensure that he understands that this cannot be treated the same way as immigration — they’re two different things. That’s our biggest ask.”

The Financial Times, however, noted that her pleas are likely to go unheeded as the U.S. and India are negotiating a limited trade package to resolve market access issues for goods such as dairy and medical devices.

A spokesperson from India’s trade ministry confirmed to FT that visa issues have been excluded from the talks. Observers expect that a limited deal could be signed during Trump’s visit to India.

Ghosh also argued that lingering stigma around Indian workers is misplaced, as the country’s companies have altered their business models away from lower-value outsourcing to higher-skilled tech work, and have started hiring more locals.

“It was about cost arbitrage in the past, where people would send jobs to India for cheaper cost, but that has completely changed,” she said. “People haven’t realized the change that the industry has gone through, the contribution that it’s making to the U.S.”

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