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Stimulus may hurt Indian H-1B holders

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Renita Jablonski: Companies like Bank of America and many other large firms in the U.S. are not goint to be hiring as many foreign graduates this year. Part of that is from a stipulation tied to bailout money, and for some companies is just not wanting the political backlash as our unemployment picture gets worse. A new study by the Kauffman Foundation today shows reducing those hires could hurt the economy further. That’s because those students, spending money in this country, are going to be heading home more quickly. The lion’s share of H1-B visas, the visas for highly-skilled workers, go to people in India. From New Dehli, Raymond Thibodeux has this report.

Raymond Thibodeaux: In India, a bachelor who has an H-1B visa can get more dowry money from the family of his potential bride, so prized are these work visas that offer a chance of winning permanent residency in the U.S.

But America is hurting in a recession where more than half a million workers are laid off every month. And some U.S. lawmakers are demanding that H-1B visa holders should be the first to go. Those demands have touched a nerve here in India.

Swami Vigyananand: Is a big issue for us. From our perspective, this is looking very bad, discriminatory, biased. How do you justify this?

That’s Swami Vigyananand, spokesman for the Global Hindu Alliance. The group’s calling for a boycott of some American goods to protest new restrictions on H-1B workers. He says the program benefits both countries. It gives Indian professionals a chance to boost their resumes by working in the U.S., and it’s given American companies a deeper international talent pool.

Vigyananand: But because they are getting a stimulus package, they are obliged to follow the dictate of the President Obama, which is to throw these Indian H-1B visa holders out of the job.

The Obama administration aims to tighten oversight of all work visa programs. The president’s stimulus plan stops companies that take federal bailout money from hiring H-1B visa holders for two years if the firms have laid off American workers in the previous six months.

That’s most likely a nod to H1-B critics who say the work visa process is riddled with fraud. They say some companies, not just in the financial sector but in technology too, bring in foreign workers, pay them less and hold down the wages of their American counterparts. It’s a thorny problem.

Ameet Nivsarkar is a vice president for India’s biggest IT and outsourcing industry trade group, Nasscom:

Ameet Nivsarkar: It raises concerns on both sides, anything to do with H-1B or outsourcing.

Nivsarkar and other industry leaders here point out that H-1B visa holders represent only a tiny percentage of the American workforce. They say that if talented Indians are excluded from banking and technology jobs in America, not only will they suffer, the American economy will, too.

In New Delhi, I’m Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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