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India wary of US visa bill impact on IT industry

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New Delhi/Washington/Bengaluru, Jan 31 : India on Tuesday said it has expressed its concern to the US over a bill to change rules on H-1B visas that will impact the IT industry and Indian techies working in America.

“India’s interests and concerns have been conveyed both to the US administration and the US Congress at senior levels,” said External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup in New Delhi.

The High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017, introduced in the House of Representatives by California Congressman Zoe Lofgren on Monday, calls for doubling the minimum salary of H-1B visa holders to $130,000 from the current minimum wage of $60,000 – a move that could impact Indian techies.

The bill, likely to be signed by President Donald Trump, would make it difficult for firms to use the programme to replace American employees with foreign workers, including from India, with lower wages.

The bill would require that employers first offer a vacant position to an equally or better qualified American worker before seeking an H1B or L-1 visa holder.

It would also establish wage requirements for L-1 workers and improve H1B wage requirements to encourage companies to hire qualified American workers and prevent them from using foreign workers as a source of cheap labour.

H1-B visas are issued to qualified professionals. A related visa is the L-1, which is given to employees of a company who are transferred to the US. Both of them are used extensively by Indian companies.

According to ComputerWorld magazine, nearly 86 per cent of H1-B visas for computer-related jobs and 46.5 per cent for engineering positions were given to Indians.

The US issues 85,000 H1-B visas every year, of which 20,000 are for master’s degree holders from US universities. Because of the large number of applicants – 236,000 in 2016 – the H1-B visas were issued through a lottery system.

As the export-oriented industry’s representative body, Nasscom, said the reform bill was fraught with challenges due to provisions that would nullify its objective of saving American jobs.

“The Lofgren Bill contains provisions that may prove challenging for the Indian IT sector and leave loopholes that will nullify the objective of saving American jobs,” asserted Nasscom in a statement here.

The US market generated about 60 per cent of the $108-billion export revenue for the $143-billion Indian IT industry for the last fiscal (2015-16).

Nasscom’s revised export guidance is $117-119 billion for this fiscal (2016-17).

“Though the bill has to go through an extensive legislative process at the US Congress and the Senate for becoming law, it does not treat all IT service firms with H-1B visa holders equally and the provisions are biased against H-1B dependant firms,” asserted Nasscom President R. Chandrashekhar in a statement here.

Assuring the industry of engaging with the US administration and its lawmakers through the Indian government, the former IT secretary said the apex body would highlight their value contribution as a ‘net creator’ of jobs in the US.

“The Indian IT sector has helped American businesses by providing high-skilled IT solutions in order to innovate, open new markets, expand their operations and creating thousands of new jobs for Americans,” claimed Chandrashekhar.

The bill also does not address the acute shortage of STEM-skilled workers in the US, which led all companies to have a calibrated hiring of locals and bridging the skills gap with skilled workers on non-immigrant visas, including H-1Bs.

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Echoing the Indian government’s and the industry’s concerns over the reform visa bill, Tech Mahindra Chief Executive C.P. Gurnani, however, hoped things would become better once Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Trump in June.

“President Trump (already) had a conversation with Modi. I am sure they will meet very soon. Both of them have a background (Trump has a background of running businesses and Modi is a pro-business prime minister) and both will definitely find a meeting ground,” Gurnani told BTVi in an interview.

Reiterating that Modi was not shy of raising issues, Gurnani said he believed the meeting could happen as early as June and there could be a positive outcome.

“India-incorporated IT companies have invested around $2 billion in the US and are able to create about 100,000 jobs in America,” added Gurnani.

The legislation, Lofgren said, removes the “per country” cap for employment-based immigrant visas so that all workers are treated more fairly and to move to a system where employers hire the most skilled workers without regard to national origin.

“It (bill) offers a market-based solution that gives priority to those companies willing to pay the most. This ensures American employers have access to the talent they need, while removing incentives for companies to undercut American wages and outsource jobs,” she said.

Trump’s spokesperson Sean Spicer said H-1Bs and other visa are “a part of larger immigration reform effort that the President would continue to talk about through executive order and through working with Congress.”

“There is an overall need to look at all these programmes and you will see both through executive action and through comprehensive legislative measures, a way to address immigration as a whole and the visa programmes,” said Spicer.

Before assuming office in January, Trump said one of his first tasks would be to issue an executive order for the Labour Department to investigate visa abuses that he asserted undercut the wages of American workers.

Along with H1-B, Spicer mentioned spousal and others as categories of visas that Trump may act on.

In 2015, President Barack Obama’s administration permitted spouses of H1-B visa-holders to get permission to work.

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United States Employment Rate will fall further: Fed

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Washington, April 16 (IANS) Economic activity “contracted sharply and abruptly” across all regions in the US as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday.

“The hardest-hit industries – because of social distancing measures and mandated closures – were leisure and hospitality, and retail aside from essential goods,” the Fed said in its latest survey on economic conditions, known as the Beige Book, based on information collected from its 12 regional reserve banks before April 6, Xinhua reported.

“All Districts reported highly uncertain outlooks among business contacts, with most expecting conditions to worsen in the next several months,” the Fed said.

The survey showed that employment declined in all districts as the COVID-19 pandemic affected firms in many sectors.

“Employment cuts were most severe in the retail and leisure and hospitality sectors, where most Districts reported widespread mandatory closures and steep falloffs in demand,” the survey said, adding severe job cuts were also widespread in the manufacturing and energy sectors.

“Contacts in several Districts noted they were cutting employment via temporary layoffs and furloughs that they hoped to reverse once business activity resumes. The near-term outlook was for more job cuts in coming months,” the survey said.

The survey noted that no district reported upward wage pressures, with most citing “general wage softening and salary cuts” except for high-demand sectors such as grocery stores.

“These trends were seen as reflecting weaker demand for many goods and services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the survey said.

The survey came after the Commerce Department reported earlier on Wednesday that US retail sales plunged in March by the most on record as the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to take a big toll on the US economy.

The US economy is expected to contract by 5.9 per cent this year, according to the World Economic Outlook (WEO) report released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday.

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New York statewide COVID-19 deaths surpass 10,000

Meanwhile, indicators including the rates of ICU admissions and intubations have gone down and the three-day-average rate of hospitalization basically reached a plateau, according to the governor.

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New York, April 14 : Governor of the US state of New York Andrew Cuomo said statewide deaths from COVID-19 rose to 10,056, adding “the worst is over if we continue to be smart” in coping with the novel coronavirus.

Cuomo on Monday said at his daily briefing that a total of 671 people passed away on Sunday due to the disease, a number much lower than in the past few days, Xinhua news agency reported.

Meanwhile, indicators including the rates of ICU admissions and intubations have gone down and the three-day-average rate of hospitalization basically reached a plateau, according to the governor.

“We are controlling the spread,” said Cuomo. “I believe the worst is over if we continue to be smart. I believe we can start on the path to normalcy,” he said.

He said he would be joined by several other governors of neighbouring states later on Monday to discuss how to reopening the economy in a coordinated way.

On Twitter, the governor said that any plan to reopen society must be driven by data and experts, not opinion and politics.

He said the objective is to ease isolation and increase economic activity without increasing the infection rate.

“We will learn from the warning signs from other countries. We will take every precaution. We will work together as a region,” he added.

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US now has highest COVID-19 deaths, surpasses Italy: Johns Hopkins

A total of 20,071 people have died of the disease among 519,453 confirmed cases in the country as of 4 p.m. local time (2000 GMT) on Saturday

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Washington, April 12 : The UnS has surpassed Italy as the country with the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world as the fatalities as of Sunday reached 20,604, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

As of Sunday morning, Italy has reported 19,648 coronavirus deaths, placing it in the second position after the US, the data published by the university’s enter for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed.

The US also accounts for the highest number of confirmed cases with 529,887. Spain, where the number of confirmed infections stands at 163,027, is a distant second, followed by Italy with 152,271 cases.

New York state, the epicentre of the pandemic in the US, has recorded the most deaths in the country, 8,627, which is followed by New Jersey and Michigan with 2,183 and 1,276, respectively, the CSSE data showed.

A total of 32,001 patients in the country have recovered, it added.

US President Donald Trump’s administration, which earlier estimated that the pandemic would cause anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the US, revised its projection downward this week to 60,000, reports Efe news.

Members of the White House coronavirus task force credit the more optimistic forecast to the success of the stay-at-home orders issued by 42 of the 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, covering around 316 million people.

Trump, who has repeatedly decried the economic cost of closing schools and businesses to contain the virus, said late last month that he hoped to re-open the country by Easter Sunday.

During Friday’s news briefing by the task force, Trump sought to reassure Americans that he would guided by medical experts as well as by recommendations from the “Opening Our Country Council” he plans to install next week.

“I want to get it open as soon as possible. The facts are going to determine what I do,” the president said.

“I’m going to have to make a decision, and I only hope to God that it’s the right decision. But I would say, without question, it’s the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Trump said.

As of Sunday, the number of global coronavirus cases stood at 1,777,517, with 108,862 deaths, while 404,236 people have recovered.

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