M A I N   N E W S

Special to the tribune
US Senate bill to affect Indian firms
Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington DC

The United States Senate on Thursday passed a comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and, worryingly for the Indian tech sector, places restrictions on companies that depend on skilled foreign workers.

The Senate bill was passed in a 68-32 vote, winning the support of all Senate Democrats and 14 Republicans. However, it is unlikely to clear the House of Representatives in its current form.

Republicans, who dominate the US House of Representatives, have made it clear that they do not like the Senate bill. House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the House will not take up the Senate bill for a vote. “We’re going to do our own bill... that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people,” he said.

House Republicans oppose a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The Senate legislation puts the undocumented immigrants on a 13-year path toward achieving permanent residency status or US citizenship, but it would also require them to pay thousands of dollars in fines and back taxes. US President Barack Obama praised the Senate for passing the legislation and urged the House to act. “Today, the Senate did its job. It’s now up to the House to do the same... We have a unique opportunity to fix our broken system in a way that upholds our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. We just need the Congress to finish the job,” he said. Both houses of Congress must pass and agree on common legislation before it is sent to the president to sign into law.

The legislation raises the cap on the H-1B non-immigrant visa for high-skilled workers from 65,000 a year to 110,000 and eventually 180,000 a year, depending on demand. However, it also places restrictions and onerous fees on firms that rely on foreign workers on H-1B and L1 non-immigrant visas by raising the cost of doing business.

The US-India business lobby says these restrictions will undermine the ability of US firms to stay competitive and create jobs.

If the Senate legislation eventually becomes law, employers will have to pay a steep fee for the admission of foreign workers on H-1B or L1 visas. This fees varies. Companies that employ 50 or more employees in the US will have to pay $5,000 for each of the fiscal years 2015 through 2024 if more than 30 per cent and less than 50 per cent employees are H-1B or L visa holders. This fee rises sharply to $10,000 for fiscal years 2015 through 2017 if the employer employs more than 50 per cent and less than 75 per cent H-1B and L visa holders. The US-India business lobby is more favourably inclined toward a House legislation, the SKILLS Visa Act, that does not include these conditions. 





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