Visa Fee Hike – India to Move WTO Against USA

A new visa fee increase will affect Indian professionals hoping to secure a visa to work in the US. India claims that the fee increase is discriminatory against software companies in India and is seeking consultations with the US under the World Trade Organization (WTO) in order to discuss the issue. According to Indian experts, the fee increase will especially harm software companies in that country who send workers to the US as part of short-term contracts. According to senior officials, India has been seeking to speak with the US about the issue under the aegis of the WTO since April, but has taken time to gather information and documentation to make their case clear. It is expected that the country will file a formal complaint and seek consultations about the fee hike by October.

The visa fee increase occurred in 2010. The increase occurred because the US faced increased costs due to the Border Security Act, which aimed to secure the US-Mexican border. Since 2010, when the fee hike was announced, India has opposed the measure.  The fee increase occurred under the Emergency Border Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010.

The fee hike affects L-1 visa and H-1B visa categories, which are routinely used by Indian professionals looking to work in the US. The visa categories are for applicants who work at companies who have at least half of their employees admitted through non-immigrant visas or who hire more than 50 employees in the US. The fee hikes for these visa categories have been substantial, increasing to $2000 USD for H-1B visa applications. The L-1 visa application has been increased by $2700 USD for every applicant.

Currently, the US is the largest market for software exports for India. The top software companies in India — including TCS, InfosysBSE, Mahindra Satyam, and WiproBSE, as well as others — have reported being negatively affected by the visa fee increase. The companies routinely send professionals to the US for work, and in many cases work closely with US companies as part of their business.

If India does file a complaint with the WTO over the issue, the first step of the process will involve consultations with the US. Consultations will give the two nations a chance to talk about the issue and resolve the problem. If consultations fail to yield a solution within 60 days, India may ask for adjudication by a panel. The two nations have successfully completed WTO consultations about other issues in the past, most recently about steel and avian flu.