07 January 2011

US Visa fee increase ‘violated trade agreement’, says foundation

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The large increase in certain categories of US Visa has meant the US Government may have violated its commitment under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), an American policy think-tank has said.

US Visa

The increase in certain US Visa fees could be against trade agreements, a new report has said.

Last year under the Mexico Border Protection Bill, the US significantly increased the fees for certain H-1B and L-1 visas, the main US Visa types used by Indian companies to bring in temporary workers for contracts in the US.

The bill increased visa fees by $2,000 for H-1B visas and by $2,250 for L-1 visas, but only for employers that employ 50 or more employees in the United States and more than 50 per cent of the employees are in H-1B or L-1 status.

The National Foundation for American Policy, based in Washington, released a report on the issue saying that the increase in fees may be challenged and could see a reaction against US exported goods and services. 

"The United States specifically committed in its GATS schedule to allow the temporary entry and stay of individuals under the H-1B and L-1 visa provisions, as they existed when the United States joined the GATS in 1994. Accordingly, additionally restricting the availability of H-1B and L-1 visas could violate this commitment," said the report.

"As a result, a WTO Member whose companies use H-1B and L-1 visas to perform services in the United States may challenge this provision at the World Trade Organization.

Fee increase was part of legislation to increase border security personnel, equipment, technology, infrastructure, and other resources along the United States southwestern border.

"However, the ultimate purpose of the new fees is not to cover expenses for increased border security. Senator Charles Schumer (NY-D), who introduced the amendment to include the higher fees in the legislation, explicitly stated that the purpose of the fees is to restrict the availability of L-1 and H-1B visas. Thus, Congress' overall intent was reducing the visas' availability, not budget neutrality," the report said.

The report argues that because the United States is bound to the commitment under GATS to allow the temporary admission of (non-immigrant) specialty workers under the H-1B and L-1 visa provisions and may not now adopt or maintain measures that would conflict with that commitment.


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