United States Senate has passed the landmark comprehensive immigration reform bill that will provide a pathway to citizenship to some 11 million illegal immigrants, including over 240,000 Indians.
The issue sits atop President Barack Obama’s second-term agenda, but the bill’s prospects are highly uncertain in the Republican-controlled House, where many conservatives prefer more border security to any pathway to citizenship. The bill has three central themes: strengthening border security, citizenship for 11 million illegals, and legal immigration revamp to expand talent pool and keep American jobs home.
The third part, which seeks to overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes for highly skilled foreign workers, hits Indian tech firms such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro directly. They depend heavily on foreign workers, mostly from India. But they will find it increasingly difficult and costlier. And from 2016, they will have to maintain a 50-50 balance. The bill also seeks to fast-track permanent residency-Green Card-for foreign students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math courses to keep them in the US.
This will, encourage Indian students, who are the second largest component of foreign students in the US, to come to the US and stay, depriving India of their skills whereas on the other hand it will discourage those in the US from thinking of returning home, a trend that had begun picking up recently specially for those stuck in the immigrations system.
The measure also requires 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, the completion of 1,226 kilometres of fencing and the deployment of an array of high-tech devices along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Other provisions would expand the number of visas available for highly skilled workers relied upon by the technology industry. A separate program would be established for lower-skilled workers, and farm workers would be admitted under a temporary program.
a) Any company with more than 15% of its workforce on H-1B visas would be barred from placing those workers at client sites.
b) No more than 75% of workforce can be on H-1B visas, effective 2014. In 2015, this goes down to 65%; and 50% beginning 2016
c) Tighter financial fees for H-1B and L-1 visas . H -1B workers will get lower than mean wages for the occupation in question
d) Tough government checks on companies with more than 15% workers on L-1. Thus Indian IT firms may be forced to hire more workers locally, at higher wages, which may neutralise their cost advantage. They can hire from India only after proving such workers are not available in the US.