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The H-1B issue -- Smoke without fire

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CIOL Bureau
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Cyber News Service

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NEW DELHI: The National Association for Software and Services Companies

(Nasscom) plans to approach the US President Bill Clinton on the issue of recent

arrest and manhandling of 40 software professionals by the US department of

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Though the department last week

dropped the charges against these professionals, their future in the US is

uncertain.

According to Nasscom president Dewang Mehta, Nasscom was planning to take up

the issue to the US President for further clarification. It is lobbying to

gather signatures from as many Senators as possible favoring India's stand to

place the same before the US President. Mr Mehta said, "So far we have

taken the signatures of 68 Senators and 103 Congressmen for their solidarity

with the issue. The moment 120 Senators sign the memorandum, which is one-third

of the total strength of the Senate, we will seek the President's intervention

in the case." Nasscom has also taken up the issue with INS, for which it is

expecting an appointment in the first week of March.

Almost a month after the INS arrested 40 computer professionals at the

Randolph Air Force base in San Antonio in the US, INS has dropped the charges.

The letter issued from the INS does not state any specific reasons but simply

mentions: ...INS, as a matter of prosecutorial discretion, is cancelling the

notice to appear served...pursuant to the enforcemnet operation at Randolph Air

Force Base on January 20.

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While it brings to a close the agony of those arrested and who, allegedly,

have had to undergo racial abuse and maltreatment from the authority, there are

still many questions that remain both unclear and unanswered. For instance, will

the INS take any action against the two Indian-owned Houston based

companies--Frontier Consulting and Softech Consulting. There are reports though

which imply that INS may pursue administrative revocation of the employer's H-1B

visa petition. If that is carried out, employees of the two companies may be

asked to leave the country.

It remains a mystery as to why it took INS a month to file the charges in

court even though they had been investigating the case for six months, as they

claimed? Also, why did INS not take action against the companies in question

instead of handcuffing the employees for not possessing the appropriate visa

documents for their working in US? While one theory indicates the possible

involvement of rival companies who failed to get the job contract, what is

gaining more credence is the angle of racial discrimination. The overriding

opinion is that lack of appropriate documents does not call for handcuffing

knowledge workers and treating them as common law breakers.

The overall impact of this on the Indian software industry is not reckoned to

be much. According to Encore Software Chairman and CEO Vinay L. Deshpande, it

would impact companies involved in body shopping. He said, "Individual

people who want to go to the US will think twice now." Added Linc Software

director Rajan Narayanan, "This has created fear in the people. Even the

green card holders have suffered due to this incident." The issue has more

relevance from an individual's point of view, forcing them to be more diligent

when it comes to the legality of their H1 Visa. Otherwise, it is business as

usual, is the general feeling.

Said Ishoni Networks managing director T.S. Satish, "Ground business

reality around shortage of hi-tech manpower is way too strong to allow this

isolated incident to influence in major way." While the Indian government's

low key response has come to receive flak in some quarters, folks in the

industry feel that it is in the best interest of the industry not to politicize

the event. It is felt that it would be better for the software industry to take

the matter up with the higher authorities in the US, who otherwise leave no

chance in praising the Indian software brains for being the backbone of the

Silicon Valley.

(With inputs from Srinivas R.)

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