US Cong sends border protection bill raising visa fee to Obama

In a special session called in the middle of a six- week break, the Senate today passed the bill which was approved by vote by the House of Representatives this week. The bill now goes to the White House for President Obama to sign it into law.

Only two senators attended the short session: Democrats Ben Cardin and Charles Schumer. Under Senate rules, only two members must be present if legislation is unanimously agreed to by all others.

The bill passed by the Senate through a voice vote – called unanimous consent – approves USD 600 million plan to tighten security along the US-Mexico border by adding another 1,500 agents, deploy more unmanned vehicles to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and drug mafia.

"To offset the emergency border spending, the Senate proposal would hike fees assessed on particular companies that exploit two categories of visas. A handful of foreign- controlled companies that operate in the US—such as Wipro, Tata, Infosys and Satyam—rely on H1B and L visas to import foreign workers to the United States.

"The Senate Democrats' border security proposal would increase the visa fees paid by these companies by roughly USD 2,000 per visa application," said Senator Claire McCaskill.

The bill will raise fees on a handful of foreign corporations that exploit US visa programs to import workers from abroad. The package would provide a 10-per cent boost above 2010 border spending, it said.

The hike in the visa fees to fund new measures would result in Indian IT companies having to shell out up to USD 250 million annually on visa costs. "What a relief that the Senate is still capable of passing measures that are really needed without playing political games," McCaskill said.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid said: "This morning, the Senate passed a USD 600 million border security package that will help law enforcement officials in the fight against smuggling and other criminal activities in the border area. But I continue to believe that increased enforcement along our borders is only one part of a sound, comprehensive solution to fix our broken immigration system, and more work remains to achieve that ultimate goal."

Republican leader Senator John McCain applauded the USD 600 million in additional funding for the protection of the US-Mexico border, but demanded that the Democrats need to do more to secure the border. However, the US is keen that the issue does not impact on the fast growing economic ties with India as President Obama set to visit India in November.

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