Senators ask Indian firms to explain use of H-1B visas

Wednesday, 16 May 2007, 07:00 Hrs
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Washington: As the US Congress prepares to debate comprehensive immigration reforms, two senators have asked top nine foreign-based companies including some Indian firms to explain their use of the special H-1B visa programme.

"More and more it appears that companies are using H-1B visas to displace qualified, American workers," said Republican Chuck Grassley and Democratic Richard Durbin, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees.

The senators have sent letters to India-based Infosys Technologies and eight other companies that used nearly 20,000 of the available visas seeking further details about their workforce by May 29.

The exercise was described as part of an effort to determine if the H-1B programme is being used for its intended purpose, which is to fill a worker shortage for a temporary time period.

"Now, as we move closer to debate on an immigration bill, we continue to hear how people want to increase the number of H-1B visas that are available to companies. Considering the high amount of fraud and abuse in the visa programme, we need to take a good, hard look at the employers who are using H-1B visas and how they are using them," they said.

"Supporters claim the goal of the H-1B programme is to help the American economy by allowing US companies to hire needed foreign workers. The reality is that too many H-1B visas are being used to facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs to other countries," the senators said.

"We have to look at the system that generates these visas and the way they are used. This legislation will help protect American workers first by stopping H-1Bs from being exploited and used as outsourcing visas."

The senators said they expected the companies to cooperate and answer their questions to ensure that accurate information is being used as Congress begins debate on new immigration policy.

Grassley and Durbin recently introduced legislation that would overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes to give priority to American workers and crack down on unscrupulous employers who deprive qualified Americans of high-skill jobs.

In a letter sent to Nandan Nilekani, CEO of Infosys Technologies, the senators said, they have been concerned about reported fraud and abuse of the H-1B and L visa programmes, and their impact on American workers. "We are also concerned that the programme is not being used as Congress intended.

"While some Members of Congress have focused on increasing the annual cap of the H-1B programme, we believe it is important to understand how H-1B visas are being used by companies in the United States.

"We have received helpful data from the US Citizenship and Immigration Service with regard to H-1B visa approvals in 2006 for the top 200 participating companies. Your company was one of the top companies on the list. Therefore, we are requesting your cooperation in providing additional statistics and information on your use of H-1B visa workers," the letter said.

"First, some groups, such as the Programmers Guild, have analysed the wages paid to H-1B visa holders. They have found that the average annual salary of foreign workers is significantly lower than that of new US graduates.

"Second, a number of consulting firms reportedly recruit foreign workers and then outsource the individuals to other job sites or companies. Many of the top 20 companies that used H-1B visas in 2006 are firms, such as yours, that specialise in offshore outsourcing.

"Third, a number of firms have allegedly laid off American workers while continuing to employ H-1B visa holders. The American people are concerned about such lay offs at a time when the demand for visa issuances and the recruitment of foreign workers appear to be increasing."

The information sought include the number of US citizens employed by the company in the United States, visa petitions submitted, approved and what percentage of the company's total workforce are H-1B visa holders.

The senators have also asked about the average wage of H-1B visa holders, the median wage, the highest and the lowest salaries for those H-1B visa holders and the average wage of US citizens in the same occupations.

Information has been also sought about how many of the 4,908 visas received by Infosys were outsourced to other companies and how many employees' salaries were paid for by a firm other than Infosys.

The senators also wanted to know if the company experienced any layoffs in the United States and if any H-1B visa holders replaced dislocated workers, or take over any of the laid off employees job responsibilities.

Similar letters have gone to Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services, Patni Computer Systems, I-Flex Solutions Inc, Satyam Computer, Larsen & Toubro Infotech, Tech Mahindra Americas Inc and Mphasis Corp.
Source: IANS
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