Industry officials said the regulations, if made law, would limit the ability of American outsourcing companies to hire technology workers from abroad and place them with clients for temporary assignments, such as installing new computer software and updating e-mail systems. That could drive up costs for businesses, which could be passed on to consumers, the officials said.
Indian firms, too, fear the repercussions on that nation’s fast-growing technology sector, which sends tens of thousands of workers to the United States on H-1B temporary worker visas.
“What this does for American firms’ relationship with global IT firms in India is it disrupts the business model,” said Ron Somers, president of the U.S.-India Business Council, which represents 350 U.S. companies and has hired the law firm Patton Boggs to lobby lawmakers. “This is bad for U.S. businesses, it’s bad for the global IT industry, and it’s bad for the larger India-U.S. partnership.”
The fight over the high-tech provisions in the Senate plan is a sub-drama in the larger Capitol Hill battle over comprehensive immigration reform. The Republican-controlled House is pursuing an alternative course focused on passing smaller bills, casting doubt on the chances for a broad overhaul.
The roots of the dispute over high-tech visas date to long-
standing concerns among U.S. technology firms that there are not enough skilled workers in the country and that they must be imported. Unions and many Democrats counter that the system is used to avoid hiring American workers because of cost concerns.
During months of negotiations over the Senate bill, Republicans pushed successfully to sharply expand H-1B visas for highly skilled workers from the current annual limit of 65,000 to as many as 180,000. In return, Democrats secured provisions aimed at ensuring that American workers get the first shot at high-paying technology jobs.
Under the plan, outsourcing firms with more than 15 percent of their skilled employees on H-1B visas must wait a year before replacing an American worker with a foreigner and pay that worker higher wages, and they are forbidden from placing such workers with U.S. employers.
A Democratic aide said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) led the fight for the restrictions because he believes the visa program has been exploited for years by some U.S. outsourcing firms. Although many Indian workers remain in the United States to work at client sites, many others are sent back to their home country after receiving training on temporary visas and open satellite offices that handle operations from afar .