The H-1B issue

The National Association for Software and
Services Companies (Nasscom) plans to approach the US President Bill Clinton on the issue of recent arrest and manhandling of forty software professionals by the US Department of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Though the department has dropped the charges against these professionals, their future in the US is uncertain.

According to Nasscom President Dewang Mehta, Nasscom was planning to take up the issue with the US President for further clarification. It is lobbying to gather signatures from as many Senators as possible favoring India’s stand to place the same before the president. Mehta says, “So far we have taken the signatures of 68 Senators and 103 Congressmen for their solidarity with the issue. The moment 120 Senators–one-third of the total strength of the Senate–sign the memorandum, we will seek the President’s intervention in the case.” Nasscom has also taken up the issue with the INS.

INS dropped charges almost a month after it arrested 40 computer
professionals at the Randolph Air Force base in San Antonio in the US. The letter issued from the INS did not state any specific reasons but simply mentions, “…INS, as a matter of prosecutorial discretion, is canceling the notice to appear served…pursuant to the enforcement operation at Randolph Air Force Base on January 20.

While it brings to a close the agony of those arrested and who, allegedly, have had to undergo racial abuse and maltreatment at the hands of the authority, there are still many questions that remain unclear and 
unanswered. For instance, will the INS take any action against the two Indian-owned companies based in Houston–Frontier Consulting and Softech Consulting. There are reports though which imply that INS may pursue administrative revocation of the employer’s
H-1B visa petition. If that is carried out, employees of the two companies may be asked to leave the
country.

It remains a mystery as to why it took INS a month to file the charges in court even though they had been investigating the case for six months, as they claim. Also, why did INS not take action against the companies in question instead of the employees? While one theory indicates the possible
involvement of rival companies who failed to get the job contract, what is gaining more credence is the angle of racial discrimination. The overriding opinion is that the lack of appropriate documents does not call for handcuffing knowledge workers and treating them as common law breakers.

The issue is not reckoned to make much impact on the Indian software
industry. According to Vinay L Deshpande, Chairman and CEO, Encore Software, it would impact companies involved in body shopping. He says, “Individuals who want to go to the US will think twice now.” TS Satish, MD, Ishoni Networks, says, “The ground business reality around shortage of hi-tech manpower is way too strong to allow this isolated incident to influence things in a major way.” While the Indian government’s low key response has received flak in some quarters, industry sources feel that it is in the best interest of industry not to politicize the event. They feel that it would be better for the software industry to take up the matter with higher authorities in the US, who otherwise leave no chance in praising Indian software brains for being the backbone of the Silicon Valley.

Puneet Kumar 
CNS

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