India Complains to WTO Over US H1B Visa Policy Change
The WTO revealed that India had requested consultations with the US over moves by Washington to raise fees for L1 and H1B working visas and also restrictions on the number of those visas awarded. The move is the first step in initiating a dispute at the WTO.
India's WTO complaint:
India's WTO complaint is over an increase in fees on H1B visas that the US imposed on companies with workforces comprised of more than 50 percent foreign workers. A provision included in last year's federal spending bill added a new $4,000 fee for each H1B, which India argues is discriminatory to the country under its trade agreement with the US.
Meanwhile, the annual gold rush in Silicon Valley to file applications for H1B visas has just begun, as the federal government began distributing some of the 85,000 H1B visas it is authorized to issue this fiscal year, according to Vice News.
|Indian Body Shops Infosys, TCS and Wipro Topped H1B Sponsor List in 2013|
Why the Complaint?
Why is India complaining? There are two main reasons:
1. India's overall exports have suffered 18th consecutive monthly decline in February 2016, according to India's Economic Times. Exports from India amounted to US$264 billion in 2015, down -12.4% since 2011 and down -16.9% from 2014 to 2015.
2. Most of India's IT exports to the United States are made up of wages of H1B workers brought to the United States by a handful of Indian body shops like Tata Consulting Services (TCS) and Infosys. In 2014, 86% of the H1B visas for tech workers were granted to Indians, according to available data. Given India's heavy reliance on H1B workers for its IT exports earnings, it is natural that the Indian government gets very concerned whenever there's even a hint of the US possibly limiting H1B visas or making them more expensive.
|Cumulative Stock of H1B From 2007-2012: 775,957. Source: DICE|
Indian Body Shops:
The Indian body shops like Cognizant, TCS and Infosys that rely on the H1B visa program in the US are "the shining star" of the Indian economy, and the country's largest export, according to an Indian-American professor Ron Hira who is a strong critic of the abuses of H1B program. By complaining, the Indian government and firms that rely on the program are trying to "build up a firewall so that no other reforms can come through and constrain the program in any way."
Indian Code Coolies:
H1B workers brought in by Indian body shops are described variously as "code coolies" or "H1B slaves". Some call them "indentured servants", like the ones from India who replaced slave labor after the British empire abolished slavery.
“’Indentured servants’ is a pretty accurate term because in many cases that’s exactly what’s going on,” said Phillip Griego of San Jose’s Phillip J. Griego and Associates. Over the years, Griego and his law partner, Robert Nuddleman have represented several H-1B workers in lawsuits against body shops.
India has complained to the World Trade Organization about changes to the US H1B that mainly benefit India's body shops like Cognizant, Infosys and Tata at the expense of both US and Indian workers. US workers lose their jobs while Indian workers are exploited as wage slaves. India uses the wages of Indian H1B workers to inflate its IT export earning by as much as 20X. Proposed changes to H1B visa program like higher fees and lower numbers threaten India's export earning which have declined for 18 months in a row. The ongoing election debate over whether the H1B program is hurting American workers rose to public consciousness amid the Republican primary debates this year. The election outcome has the potential to negatively impact Indian H1B exports earnings.
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