Indian techies in US plan for sick-in strike

New Delhi, June 2 | Updated: Jun 3 2006, 05:30am hrs
Indian techies in the US are gearing up for a massive sick-in strike sometime around mid-July to highlight various concerns arising from the Bush administrations H1 visa policies.

According to Rajiv Dabhadkar, founder of National Organisation for Software and Technology Professionals (NOSTOP), a US based NGO, The present system encourages brokers who import high-tech talent and play havoc with their careers and also family lives.

NOSTOPS, along with another US-based NGO Bright Future, has called for this protest and Mr Dabhadkar explained that as H1-B visa holders were not allowed to go on strike, they would call in sick on that particular day and not report for work.

According to him, the H1 visa is an at-will employment. Presently, the US citizenship and immigration services (USCIS) allows for employer sanctions, which permits intellectual capital brokers to import guest workers into America and then outsource them locally.

There are no investigations on the malpractices done by the body shoppers who act as middlemen, he pointed out.

The work status of a H1-B visa holder is tied completely to his employer and he faces risks like layoffs. In the face of a layoff, the employer is only liable to pay for the air fare and the worker is deported back to his/her country.

If the worker intends to stay, then he has just 30 days with an additional grace period of 15 days to locate another sponsor and get on a payroll or his entry in the US may be termed illegal.

This creates a cycle of indetentured workers, who keep shunting from one visa sponsor to another, Mr Dabhadkar said.

The H1-B worker is denied the opportunity to explore other employment avenues available to other laid off workers. H1-B workers cannot take up temporary employment in the intervening period before getting employment in their field of expertise.

This means an H1-B worker is caught in a vicious trap consisting of no income, no unemployment benefits, inability to work in any other filed to pay bills, and ultimately is left with no choice but to leave America.

Other issues to be raised is the clause which states that spouse and children of H1-B visa holders cannot work in the US, but can only study.

Currently around 1.5 million H1-B workers pay taxes, but receive no benefits because in order to receive benefits one has to put in 10 years (40 quarters) of work in the US.

However, H1-B visa is a temporary visa sponsored by an American company on behalf of a foreign worker and it costs an average of $2,000 to sponsor a visa. The duration of this visa is three years, and it could be extended by another three years, i.e., a worker can stay and work in the USA for a total of 6 years on H1-B visa.

Thus from day one a H1-B visa holder pays around 15% towards social security funds but cannot claim any benefits.

Another issue which has been raced is that the H1 visa program, which is similar to the Bracero Program, (Mexican workers), has not been amended since its inception some 50 years ago. They also point out that the recent raise in the visa cap will only backfire on the Indian economy, as there has been no addition to the Green Cards received. (annually only 140,000 Green Cards are issued globally in all non immigration visas collectively).