US House to act on border bill amid India anger

The measure, unveiled 90 days before November mid-term elections, aims to add another 1,500 agents and deploy more unmanned aerial vehicles that scan the frontier for undocumented immigrants or illegal drug runners. The legislation's USD 600 million price tag would be paid by raising fees on what the measure's backers called a handful of foreign firms that "exploit" US visa programs to improperly import workers to the United States.

A summary of a Senate version of the bill named Indian firms Wipro, Tata, Infosys and Satyam, which fly thousands of employees each year to the United States to work at their clients' locations as technicians and engineers.

India's National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has slammed the bill, warning it would boost annual US visa costs for India's outsourcing industry by USD 200-250 million annually.

S Gopalakrishnan, chief executive of India's second-largest outsourcer Infosys Technologies, told reporters late yesterday he was "saddened and disheartened" by the step and said the sector would lobby strongly against it. India, which already holds at least 50 percent of the global outsourcing market, has become the world's back office where Western firms set up call centers, number-crunching and software development outlets to cut costs.

But the USD 50 billion industry also sends skilled workers to the United States to develop software and direct projects for US clients. The Senate passed its version of the bill unanimously last week but, because of a constitutional requirement that revenue-generating bills must originate in the House, passage by the lower chamber would send the legislation back to the Senate before it could go to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The Senate is in recess until mid-September. The measure includes money for 1,000 new US Border Patrol agents to form a "strike force" for quick deployment, 250 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as well as 250 new Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry, and to boost communications among law-enforcement officials.

The bill, first unveiled by Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Claire McCaskill, would also pay for building forward operating bases along the border as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to patrol the border. A summary of the bill said the funds would be raised with a USD 2,000 per visa increase in the price paid by specific companies for non-immigrant "H1B" visas for highly skilled workers or "L" visas for intracompany transfers.

The current visa fee is USD 2,500. "We're talking about foreign companies that more than half of their employees" are on those visas, said Schumer. "This is not going to affect American manufacturing. This is not going to affect American jobs."

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