NASSCOM responds to latest visa fraud allegations

India's chief outsourcing association has admitted there may be instances of US visa abuse by Indian companies, but said the problems are confined to "small, fly-by-night operators."

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India's chief outsourcing association has admitted there may be instances of US visa abuse by Indian companies, but said the problems are confined to "small, fly-by-night operators."

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

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

The association's comments come after further allegations of US visa abuse by two US senators this week. Following their complaints about alleged misuse of H-1B visas, non-immigrant visa category in the US, by Indian outsourcers, US Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin questioned the use of large numbers of L visas, another non-immgrant visa category, by Indian outsourcers.

Information from the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) 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 come as the US Senate attempts to revive an immigration reform bill which includes a provision for increasing the number of H-1B visas available.

Earlier this month, Patni Computer Systems reached an agreement with the US Department of Labour to pay back-wages to employees brought to the US under the H-1B visa program, who then worked at lower salaries than US 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, Infosys Technologies and Wipro. The nine companies’ together account for close to 20,000 visas, the senators said.

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

NASSCOM replied to the two senators in May but has yet to receive any acknowledgement, the association said. It said it looks forward to a positive engagement that will address the politicians' concerns without disrupting the growing two-way trade between India and the US

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

L visas are designed to give multinational companies the freedom to transfer managers and specialists within the company to their US offices, Durbin said. 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."

TCS of Mumbai 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 Tuesday. The list also includes the names of multinational companies such as IBM and Intel.

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