Indian techies, students in United States could face tough times

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Ahead of the expected executive order, lawmakers have introduced legislation mandating an increase in the minimum salary for H-1B visa guest workers to $130,000 (from the current $60,000) in an effort to shut down low-priced arbitrage that both U.S. and Indian companies have used to improve their bottom line, but which critics say has depressed wages and come at the expense of American workers.

He said that most of the queries are from those who have completed three years in the U.S., after which an H1B visa extension is required, and those who are approaching the six-year period and are unsure about whether they will get a visa extension.

Now many of those companies and their workers are fretting for the expected changes to immigration policy under President Donald Trump that they believe could hurt their ability to tap the technical talent to stay competitive.

The High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017, introduced in House of Representatives by California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, calls for doubling the minimum salary of H-1B visa holders to $130,000 from the current minimum wage of $60,000.

Nasscom, the Indian IT industry's trade body, in a statement pointed out, "The Lofgren Bill contains provisions that may prove challenging for the Indian IT sector and will also leave loopholes that will nullify the objective of saving American jobs".

"Since the rationale for the administration and the legislative wing is to protect job opportunities for Americans, our strong suggestion is that they should carefully calibrate the conditions keeping in mind the skill shortage in the US", Nasscom President R Chandrashekhar said.

It prioritizes market-based quota of H1B visas to firms willing to pay 200% of a fixed remuneration.

In addition to satisfying the minimum wage requirements, the bill will also mandate that employers first try to hire a qualified American for the job before applying for an H-1B or L1 visa.

If the bill is actually passed, Indian IT companies would be among the worse hit.

Wondering what H1B visa is? We note that companies like Apple, Google pay much higher compared to Indian IT counterparts as they are product companies and recruit a much creamy skill set through H1B visas. "Hence, removal of random lottery and introduction of market-wage based criteria for shortlisting can be a serious risk in our view", Babu said.

But there seems to be a quiet confidence among Indian companies that there isn't a viable alternative to outsourcing offshore, since there aren't enough suitable staff available to be hired in the U.S. India's key outsourcers employ tens of thousands of staff, some of them hired from the country's top engineering colleges.

"India's interests and concerns have been conveyed both to the US Administration and the US Congress at senior levels", said Vikas Swarup, spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

"From the Indian companies' perspective, it could mean that the wage limit will have to be doubled, but from a USA company's point of view, it could mean that shortage of talent could be there".

The proposed new legislation mainly targets foreign companies based in the United States that bring in foreign employees on the visa quota.

Another alternative, as suggested by an analyst, is a move towards automation of software services. One direct and immediate impact if the new rules come into place would be rising costs for IT companies.

Several of these companies depend on USA projects that may take a hit from the revised H-1B rules.

Critics of the proposals say that they unfairly disadvantage both small companies and those operating in fields where most workers are not given six-figure salaries.

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