US Congress sends visa fee hike bill to Obama

CIOL Bureau
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WASHINGTON, USA: In the face of anger in India and corporate protests at home, the US Congress on Thursday sent to President Barack Obama legislation to secure the US-Mexico border with $600 million raised by steeply hiking work visa fees.


The Senate met in a special session, called in the middle of a six-week break, to pass the House version of the bill in a voice vote called "unanimous consent" with just two lawmakers present.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, a lead sponsor of the measure and who had branded Indian IT major Infosys as a "chop shop" during the Senate debate, offered up the bill, and Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin gavelled it approved.

The Congressional action came even as the Obama administration held out an assurance that it had initiated a dialogue with lawmakers, business and within the government about the "discriminatory" US legislation that would largely hit Indian companies.


"This is an issue that we've had conversations with leaders on the Hill about," State Department spokesman Phillip J. Crowley told reporters Wednesday. "We've also had conversations across the government and we are listening to the concerns that business leaders have indicated and will be continuing our dialogue on this issue."

The Washington-based USIBC, representing some 350 American companies, including many in Fortune 500 list, like Boeing, Wal Mart, PepsiCo and General Motors and Lockheed Martin that do business in India, has warned that the measure "taxing mostly Indian companies" would hurt burgeoning India-US economic ties.

The measure, unveiled not quite 90 days before November US elections, includes funding for 1,500 new border patrol personnel and unmanned aerial vehicles to boost border surveillance.


The legislation's 600-million-dollar price tag would be paid by raising fees on what the measure's backers called a handful of foreign firms that "exploit" US visa programmes to improperly import workers to the United States.

A summary of the bill named Indian firms Wipro, Tata, Infosys and Satyam, which send thousands of employees each year to the United States to work at their clients' locations as technicians and engineers.

The legislation proposes to raise the fees on H-1B visas for companies who have more than 50 percent of their employees on such visas for highly skilled professionals from $320 to $2,320. Similarly the fee on L visas given to multinational transferees is hiked from $320 to $2,570.


The Senate adjourned for the month-long August recess last week, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reconvened the chamber in order to pass the border security bill.

"This morning, the Senate passed a $600 million border security package that will help law enforcement officials in the fight against smuggling and other criminal activities in the border area," Reid said in a statement after passage of the bill.

While the House passed a near identical border security bill Tuesday, a slight variation in wording required the Senate to vote on it again in order to send it to President Obama to be signed into law.