That's slanderous

A US senator’s reference to Infosys as a ‘chop shop’ is not just a grossly inaccurate description of the IT giant, but it is also a downright slanderous. The comment was made during discussions on the Border Security Bill, a $600-million package aimed at enhancing security along the US border with Mexico. Charles Schumer, Democrat Senator from New York, spoke about funding for this programme coming from “foreign companies known as chop shops that outsource good, high-paying American technology jobs to lower wage, temporary immigrant workers from other countries”. In this context, he named Infosys as one such company. Senator Schumer’s comment either stems from ignorance or arrogance or both. A ‘chop shop’ is slang for a business enterprise that engages in illegal work like dissembling stolen cars and selling their parts. Either the Senator doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘chop shop’ or he isn’t aware of the respect that Infosys commands, not just in India but around the world. Either way, he should desist from using words he doesn’t comprehend or maligning companies he knows little about.

Ignorance cannot be an excuse for engaging in slander. There is a possibility too that he was being deliberately provocative and insulting, perhaps hoping that a cheap shot at a foreign company would earn him some brownie points with unemployed Americans. Whatever the Senator’s excuse, an explanation and apology for the slanderous remark is due.

The Border Security Bill envisages raising funds through a significant hike in fees for H1B and L1 visas. To prevent illegal migration from Mexico, the US has decided to make foreign companies that bring into the US highly skilled workers pay. While the bill targets all foreign companies in general it has specifically named Wipro, Tata, Infosys, and Satyam — Indian IT companies. NASSCOM has rightly pointed out that while Indian companies use only 12 per cent of these visas, they have been unfairly targeted. It will raise costs for Indian IT companies enormously, reducing their competitiveness.

For decades, the US has aggressively complained when other countries adopted protectionist measures. Its visa fee hike smacks of protectionism and discrimination. Why the double standards? It might bring the government in some money but it will not come without a cost. Relations with India will not remain unaffected. The proposed visa hike is a violation of international trade practices and the India government must take it up seriously.

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