Bill raises cost of global business

August 13, 2010

By Seth McLaughlin-The Washington Times

With their usual sources for money drying up, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have started tapping the wallets of foreign workers and international businesses to pay for their pre-election wish list – moves that have put them at odds with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Indian government and possibly the World Trade Organization.

On Thursday, Congress passed a spending bill that raises visa fees on companies that bring in a large number of foreign workers, and earlier this week President Obama signed a second spending package that raises $10 billion in additional taxes on multinational companies that call the U.S. home.

The $600 million in new visa fees is being used to pay for a boost in border security, and the multinational tax financed an extension of parts of last year’s stimulus bill, freeing up billions of dollars for cash-strapped states.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who wrote the border security bill, said Thursday that it makes sense to increase fees on companies that rely heavily on temporary workers brought here under so-called H-1B or L-1 visas, since some of those companies are violating the spirit of the law.

“First, it will provide necessary funds to secure our border without raising taxes or adding to the deficit,” Mr. Schumer said. “Second, it will level the playing field for American workers, so they don’t lose out on good jobs here in America because it’s cheaper to bring in a foreign worker than hiring an American worker.”

But India’s trade minister, Shri Anand Sharma, sent a letter this week to President Obama’s trade representative protesting that it is “inexplicable to our companies to bear the cost of such a highly discriminatory law.” Indian Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar told the Indian press that the U.S. border bill “reflects an overwhelmingly protectionist frame of mind.”

Indian officials argue that their high-tech companies will suffer an unfair burden in financing the bill because so many Indian skilled workers use the special visas to work for clients in the United States, while U.S.-based firms that issue the same visas typically will not face the higher fees.

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