24 June 2011

Indian IT industry in talks with U.S. on visas

The Indian IT industry is in dialogue with the US on the use of visas by companies providing software services to American and global enterprises, a top industry official said Thursday.

"We are in dialogue with the US embassy in New Delhi to sort out problems arising out of interpreting the visas used by our IT firms providing globalised services in North America and Europe," industry body Nasscom president Som Mittal told reporters here.

With the US consulates and immigration officials at the port of entry (in the US) interpreting differently visas issued under various categories (B1, L1, H1 & H4), Nasscom has given certain guidelines to the US embassy that can be used as filters for processing visa applications of Indian IT firms.

"They (US embassy) have accepted that the (IT) business is complex and to identify what category of visas are going to be used for which area needs to be clarified. We find the interpretation of the same visa category in the US consulate is very different from the port of entry. What was acceptable yesterday and day before or last year is being questioned now," Mittal said on the margins of an IT event here.

Referring to the concerns over loss of jobs when unemployment continued to be high in some countries like the US, Mittal said there were misplaced myths about the fact that peoples movement in globalised services create unemployment, which is actually happening in construction, retail, manufacturing and areas other than services.

"In globalised services, people didn't know that the rules and guidelines created by some countries are old and subject to multiple interpretations. So, in the case of the US, there are myriad of visas which kept coming in as the needs were and increase as they go along," Mittal noted.

Asserting that in globalised services, movement of people was as essential as in the case of goods, the former HP India executive said the US government was aware that if the movement of highly skilled people stopped, its economy would have a negative impact.

"The US government had modified visa rules to allow intra-company transfers of the highly skilled like Britain, which has very progressive visa policy as such transfers are extremely important to protect the economy and businesses. If there is one visa category where there is no cap, it is the intra-transfers," Mittal pointed out.

The US embassy has formed a council, which also has members of the industry body (Nasscom) to address the visa issues in light of charges that some Indian IT firms, including the global software major Infosys Ltd, have violated the visa rules.

"I think we are overplaying this whole visa issue. Visas are important for people to travel. It is as important for Americans and other citizens of those countries who come to India. If there are myriad of visa categories, then they are subject to multiple interpretations. How can there be a misuse when H1 visas are freely available now," Mittal said.

Noting that visas were only one aspect of the IT business model, Mittal said there were hundreds of other areas where compliance was needed.

"I don't think our industry and companies are going to risk by non-compliance of any country rules. This part should be clearly understood by everyone," Mittal added.

The Nasscom president, however, declined to comment on the US probe into the reported misuse of H1 visas by Indian IT bellwether Infosys Ltd as the case was sub-judice.

"It (the Infosys case) is in the court. We have neither all the documents nor a sitting judge here. The company is doing all it can to present the facts and lets wait. I think we are on a good wicket. Our companies are here to comply with rules and guidelines," Mittal quipped.