Obama’s visa fee hike bill ignores Indian concerns
Washington: Unmindful of India and corporate America`s concerns, President Barack Obama is all set to sign into law a legislation to secure the US-Mexico border with USD 600 million raised by hiking work visa fees.
"Today`s action by Congress answers my call to bolster the essential work of federal law enforcement officials and improve their ability to partner with state, local and tribal law enforcement" to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants, Obama said on Thursday hours after the final passage of the bill.
The bill, he said, also "will make an important difference as my administration continues to work with Congress toward bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders and restore responsibility and accountability to our broken immigration system."
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said Obama will sign the bill on Friday.
But the State Department, which had on Wednesday suggested that the Obama administration had initiated a dialogue with lawmakers, business and within the government about what many see as "discriminatory" US legislation that would largely hit Indian companies, maintained it was still talking to lawmakers.
"Well, we`ll continue to work with Congress, I think, on this," spokesman Mark Toner that the Congress had already passed the measure which the US-India Business Council, representing 300 top US firms doing business with India, has warned could hurt burgeoning India-US economic ties.
The bill includes money for 1,500 new border personnel, a pair of unmanned drones and military-style bases along the border.
The measure`s USD 600 million tag would be paid for mostly by hiking visa fees on what the measure`s backers called a handful of foreign firms that "exploit" US visa programme 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 USD 320 to USD 2,320. Similarly, the fee on L visas given to multi-national transferees is hiked from USD 320 to USD 2,570.
The Senate briefly suspended its six-week summer break to give final approval to the border security bill on Thursday in response to Obama`s request for reinforcements on the Southwest border by passing the House version of the bill by "unanimous consent" with just two lawmakers present.
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, a lead sponsor of the measure 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.
Later, Senate Democrats and labour unions also released statements claiming the measure nullifies Republican arguments that they can`t consider a comprehensive immigration reform bill until Congress addresses security along the US-Mexico border.
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