Indian companies to bear US healthcare cost

Bill on 9/11 attacks aims at tax on IT firms

Indian companies to bear US healthcare cost

Joseph Zadroga (C), father of detective James Zadroga, speaks in favour of the 9/11 James Zadroga Bill in New York. James died at age 34. His supporters say he died from respiratory disease contracted at ground zero. AFP

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 seeks to create a $4.3 billion fund to provide free medical treatment to those suffering from illnesses contracted while clearing the debris at the Ground Zero in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attack.

India slammed the move as “retrograde” and the Indian IT industry said it was disappointing that the US is levying taxes only on overseas companies to meet many of its internal funding needs.

The bill passed on Wednesday night will require an estimated budget of $4.3 billion over a 5-year period will primarily be funded by taxing goods and services sourced from contractors in countries like India, China and Thailand, which are outside the purview of WTO’s Agreement on Government Procurement.

It will also be funded by continuation of an increased fee on certain categories of H-1B and L1 visas – that would mainly impact Indian IT companies — and the continuation of a fee on some travellers to this country.

The US had hiked the visa fee in August this year to fund border security and was to be valid till 2014. It will now be in force till 2015.

The previous hike was expected to cost the Indian IT industry an additional USD 200 million a year in visa fee. Several Indian IT firms avail H-1B and L-1 visas annually to fly their software engineers to the US for working at their clients’ locations.

In a letter to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said: “Passing of such a legislation would to my mind be a retrograde step for
greater trade engagement.”

Indian IT industry body Nasscom expressed concern that the Indian technology sector and overseas companies are becoming a target for the US lawmakers. The move would mainly impact Indian IT companies, which earn about 60 per cent of their $50 billion revenue from exports to America.

“US lawmakers seem to have developed a new practice of unfairly taxing foreign companies to pay for domestic issues,” Nasscom said.

Lawmakers in the US Congress, however, agreed only on a scaled down version of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, under which the fund will remain open for five years, against the 10-year time that was stipulated in the original document.

Commerce Minister Sharma said the issue of visa fee has caused considerable concern and apprehension to the Indian industry. He said the new law “will send a negative signal to Indian investors who have remained firmly committed to partnering American companies and have supported jobs even at the peak of economic crisis.”

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