- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

Proposals in Congress to limit visas for foreign high-tech workers would be a “business killer” for India’s burgeoning information technology industry and would not reduce U.S. unemployment, the head of an Indian trade group told The Washington Times during a newsmaker interview Wednesday.

Som Mittal, president of India’s National Association of Software and Service Cos., said he was concerned that pending legislation would sharply restrict the hiring of foreign workers by domestic and overseas companies operating in the United States, harming rather than helping the U.S. economy.

Sens. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, and Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, have proposed legislation that would prevent any large company from hiring more foreign high-tech workers if more than half its work force already consists of visa-holding foreigners.

“It’s a business killer for us,” Mr. Mittal said, adding that such a move could harm U.S. competitiveness and was not needed anyway because there are not enough Americans to fill the high-tech jobs.

The Grassley-Durbin visa reform bill was first introduced in 2007. Congress is preoccupied with health care and climate change legislation, but Mr. Mittal said he fears that elements of the visa bill could be incorporated in immigration legislation that Congress is expected to take up next year.

Businesses are currently allowed to hire a limited number of skilled foreign workers through the H-1B and L-1 visa programs. Critics say these programs deny job opportunities to American workers and are plagued by fraud.

Mr. Grassley said his proposed legislation would help prevent abuse of the H-1B visa program.

“With unemployment at rates higher than weve seen in some time, theres no shortage of Americans pounding the pavement looking for jobs,” Mr. Grassley said Wednesday.

“Theres no question the H-1B program is important and necessary at times for some employers, but it was never meant to replace qualified American workers,” he said. “The system is obviously broken when an H-1B visa holder is working at a laundromat rather than in high-skilled positions.”

U.S. technology giants argue that they need more, not fewer, foreign workers to tackle highly technical jobs.

“Sixty percent of all technology Ph.D.s are foreign nationals,” Mr. Mittal said. “[The visa requirement] could be detrimental to the U.S. economy. You do want to retain the best and brightest.”

The industry also needs the ability to make rapid changes to its work force in response to demand or new product development, he said.

Launching a new product in the United States requires the temporary infusion of technicians from the country where the product was developed, he said.

It’s no different, he said, when a company such as General Electric is building power systems in India - the company will need to temporarily assign a substantial number of U.S. technicians to India.

The Indian information technology sector - with export revenues of $47 billion - includes the software, design and back-office outsourcing industries. It is critical to U.S. technology and financial services companies.

“When downturns happen, the belief is that job losses are happening because of globalization,” Mr. Mittal said. “It’s so easy to rev up emotions in these things, and so difficult to reverse them.”

“For no government is 9.7 percent unemployment an acceptable situation … though it’s clear that the largest part of [U.S.] unemployment is in construction, manufacturing and retail and some in financial services.

“The unemployment in tech has actually been much lower; in fact, last year there was a shortage,” he said.

Many of the lawmakers’ concerns could be addressed with the adoption of short-term, service visa programs similar to ones used by Britain and Japan, which would eliminate a visa holder’s path to U.S. citizenship and allow the worker to remain in the U.S. for only short periods.

Even if many high-tech jobs are taken by foreigners, the domestic economy, the U.S. talent pool and American competitiveness still benefit, he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide