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Visa woes end for IBM, TCS

Last updated on: June 14, 2011 10:58 IST

Visa woes end for IBM, TCS

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Shivani Shinde & Bibhu Ranjan Mishra in Mumbai/Bengaluru

After a few month's suspension, the US Embassy has allowed IBM and Tata Consultancy Services to participate in a programme that allows them to expedite temporary work visas for their employees.

Both companies, along with three others, were suspended in 2010 on grounds of irregularities.

The status of three other suspended firms -- Accenture, Cognizant and HCL Technologies -- in the scheme known as Business Executive Programme could not be ascertained.

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Image: TCS CEO and MD N Chandrasekaran.
Photographs: Reuters
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In an emailed reply, the TCS spokesperson said: "In 2010, due to one erroneous filing of a visa application under the BEP programme, the company was not allowed to participate in the programme for three months.

"Post verification, it was determined that it indeed was a human error and the company was reinstated in the programme immediately."

When contacted, an IBM India spokesperson said the company 'is committed to the highest ethical standards and in compliance with the applicable laws and regulations in the conduct of its business, including meeting the expected high levels of compliance of the BEP programme'.

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Image: IBM office.

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HCL Technologies declined to comment on the subject dubbing it market speculation, while Cognizant said it does not comment on immigration matters. Despite repeated attempts, Accenture did not reply to emails.

The issue of irregularities in business visa was highlighted by the US Department of State in reply to a letter earlier written by Senator Charles Grassley on May 13.

The letter was undersigned by Joseph E Macmanus, Acting Assistant Secretary, Legislative Affairs, a copy of which is available with Business Standard.

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"Our consular team in India also has a 'Business Executive Program', which provides services to qualified businesses including expedited appointments.

In the last year, five large employers have been suspended from the programme as a result of the fraud discovered in visa applications filed by purported employees. Applications from individuals claiming to work for those employers now receive particularly close scrutiny."

When contacted, a US Consular Official in Mumbai confirmed that the details in the letter were correct, but the Embassy did not clarify or comment if these firms have been reinstated.

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"Suspensions do occur. We have around 350 member companies in this programme and once in a while, we have to re-evaluate these firms. These are very rare occurrences.

"Even if a company is not part of the BEP, then too they can file for Visa," said the US Consular Official. 

The BEP programme expedites business visa application and interviews for member firms.

Large Indian IT services firms and global IT firms present in India require a substantial number of their employees to travel to the US in connection with business. Ameet Nivasarkar, Vice President, Nasscom, says the BEP programme is for companies who have achieved a certain level of size.

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Image: TCS office.

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The programme provides these corporates a separate window which makes the turnaround time faster.

"It's like a frequent-flier programme of the airlines industry," he says.

Asked if these five companies have been barred from using the programme or are subject to more scrutiny, Nivasarkar said, "I don't want to comment anything on any company-specific matter."

While Visa fraud issues are being highlighted on a regular basis -- with Infosys Technologies being taken to the Federal Courts by an ex-employer for the misuse of B-1 Business visas -- the actual number of H1-B visa petitions have been falling.

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Image: One of the original members of the System/360 family announced in 1964, the Model 50.
Photographs: Courtesy, IBM Archives.
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According to Cyrus D Mehta, Founder and Managing Attorney of Cyrus D Mehta and Associates, a New York Law firm, H-1B petition filings have dropped 50 per cent over the same time last year, and by 80 per cent since 2009, according to reports. 

US Citizenship and Immigration Services recently reported that it only received approximately 8,000 H-1B petitions in April, compared with 16,500 in April 2010 and 45,000 in April 2009.

On the other hand, in 2008, the entire allotment of 65,000 visas was gone by the end of the first day.

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"Speculation on the causes ranges from the continued sluggishness of the US economy to skilled workers seeking work in their home countries and increases in visa fees.

"Some potential H-1B workers have noted that the cost of living is significantly lower in their home countries and they can be close to their family and parents.

"Moreover, another disincentive is that it is more difficult to obtain a H-1B visa approval due to increased scrutiny, and even after a H-1B visa is approved, there are severe delays in visa processing at the US consulates in India.

"Critics of the programme in the Congress and elsewhere have also contributed to an overall negative climate for hiring H-1Bs," added Mehta.


Image: An IBM unit.
Photographs: Courtesy: IBM
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