Indian outsourcing group fires back on H-1B fraud charges

It says problems are limited to 'small, fly-by-night operators'

India's chief outsourcing association has acknowledged that there may be instances of U.S. H-1B visa abuse by Indian companies, but it said the problems are confined to "small, fly-by-night operators."

Most of the Indian companies that sponsor large numbers of U.S. visas are "publicly listed and ethically managed," the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) said today. Any abuse of the visas at such companies would tend to be less than at smaller operations, it added.

However, Nasscom acknowledged in its statement that small companies are "an area that may need more attention."

The association's comments come after further allegations of visa abuse by two U.S. senators. Following their complaints last month about alleged misuse of H-1B visas by Indian outsourcers, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) this week questioned the use of large numbers of L visas by Indian outsourcers.

Information from the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services indicated that the companies using the most H-1B visas are the same firms that use the most L visas, the senators said. That made them suspect that companies are using L visas to circumvent worker protections required under the H-1B program.

The allegations came as the U.S. Senate attempted to revive an immigration reform bill that included a provision for increasing the number of H-1B visas available. That effort fell short in the Senate this morning.

Earlier this month, Patni Computer Systems Ltd. reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor to pay back wages to employees brought to the U.S. under the H-1B visa program who then worked at lower salaries than what U.S. workers would get for similar work. Patni is among the top 10 users of H-1B and L-1 visas from India.

The senators wrote letters to nine Indian companies in May, asking them for details on their use of H-1B visas. Among the companies were top Indian outsourcers including Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. (TCS), Infosys Technologies Ltd. and Wipro Ltd. The nine companies account for a total of close to 20,000 visas, the senators said.

Companies appear to be increasingly using H-1B visas to displace qualified American workers, Grassley said in May. Kamal Nath, India's minister for commerce and industry, warned at the time that the complaints could have repercussions at the ongoing World Trade Organization negotiations, since work permits are a trade issue. Those negotiations fell through this month, not because of work permits but on account of differences over subsidies and tariffs on agriculture products.

Nasscom replied to the two senators in May but said it has yet to receive any acknowledgment. The association said it looks forward to a positive engagement that will address the politicians' concerns without disrupting the growing trade between India and the U.S.

The H-1B visa is an employer-sponsored, nonimmigrant visa that allows a foreign worker to come to the U.S. temporarily to perform services in a specialty occupation. The L-1 visa, a popular type of L visa, is a nonimmigrant visa that allows companies in the U.S. or abroad to transfer certain classes of employee from their foreign operations to U.S. operations.

L visas are designed to give multinational companies the freedom to transfer managers and specialists internally to their U.S. offices, Durbin said on Tuesday. But some of these companies have hundreds, and in some cases, thousands, of L visa workers, he said.

"I find it hard to believe that any one company has that many individuals that are legitimately being transferred within a single year," Durbin said. "I find it even harder to believe that these L visas are being used appropriately when many of the same companies are some of the largest employers of H1-B workers."

Mumbai-based TCS was the largest user of L visas in 2006, with 4,887, according to a list of the top 20 L users posted by the two senators on their Web sites this week. The list also includes the names of multinational companies such as IBM and Intel Corp. 

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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