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Posted on January 29 2015

H-1B Visas: Obama’s Visit Brings Hope for India’s Skilled Workers

By  Editor
Updated April 03 2023

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the U.S. last year, he announced plans to loosen visa restrictions for people entering India. India’s outsourcing industry is hoping President Barack Obama will return the favor on his visit to the country.

India’s massive information technology and outsourcing industry—which earns billions of dollars sending Indian engineers and programmers to the U.S.—wants America to raise the ceiling on the number of skilled-worker visas it issues every year.

Immigration laws have been at the center of a heated debate in the U.S. and an issue that Mr. Obama has deemed important. But it is the status of illegal immigrants which has dominated discussion in America, delaying any changes in the number of H-1B and other skilled worker visas the U.S. issues each year.

Right now the ceiling for H-1B visas is 65,000 per year, a quota that is usually reached in a matter days. India’s software companies and the many U.S. companies that depend on their services want a higher ceiling.

While the software and outsourcing industry doesn’t expect any breakthroughs during Mr. Obama’s visit, it hopes its concerns will be conveyed and U.S. policy will soon become more accommodating.

It also hopes that Mr. Obama would be told that any legislation that tries to restrict the number of Indian skilled workers going to the U.S. would be bad.

“We hope [the U.S.] will ensure that no provisions or law is passed which discriminates or onerously puts preventive measures on some of the Indian companies,” said Gagan Sabharwal, director for trade and development at the National Association of Software and Services Companies, India’s main software industry lobby.

Another issue the industry would like to see discussed with Mr. Obama is the status of social security payments for Indians working in the U.S.  Indian workers have to make social security contributions in America but can’t collect them after retirement. The payments cost Indian employees as much as $1 billion a year, Mr. Sabharwal said.

Mr. Obama had in November bypassed the Congress and unveiled immigration reforms to protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. The reforms have yet to be completely implemented.

The November measures included some perks for skilled workers, including allowing the spouses of certain H1-B visa holders to work in the U.S. and a reduction in the amount of time time needed to get a green card.

Still, India’s software industry says it is grappling with high rates of rejection of visa applications. The rate of rejection is as high as 40% for some types of visas, said Krishnakumar Natarajan, the chief executive of Mindtree, a medium-sized software exporter.

It suggests Indian “workers are being targeted by the U.S.,” Mr. Natarajan said.

The immigration debate in the U.S. took a wild turn this month with the House passing legislation to nullify Mr. Obama’s executive action in November, even as two new bipartisan bills were introduced in the Senate, seeking to triple the number of skilled-worker visas to 195,000 and to increase the number of green cards available to high-tech workers.

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