Comprehensive immigration reform is essential; but not at the expense of American jobs and competitiveness

Unfortunately, certain provisions included in the Senate bill would block Indian IT companies from providing what have become essential IT services to the very U.S.-based multinational companies that have so significantly benefitted from, and rely on, such services. If ultimately passed, comprehensive immigration reform may very well be remembered as one of the most important and transformative pieces of legislation ever passed.  Yet, as we move from the Senate debate into the next phase of the debate in the House of Representatives, we must be mindful not to include provisions in the legislation that hurt American jobs and impair U.S. competiveness.

The Outplacement Prohibition specifically states that companies with 51 or more employees, with 15 percent or more workers, employed through the H1-B or L-1 visa programs, will be prohibited from deploying the H-1B or L-1 employees to work at a client’s location or a development center.  Other provisions of concern would create unnecessary increased bureaucracy with the Department of Labor (DOL), and increase the costs of doing business through artificial wage inflation and increased filing fees.  These provisions would put global IT service providers at a disadvantage, and while some might think that shouldn’t matter to the U.S., it would come at a great cost to their U.S. customers who depend on their outplaced H-1B or L-1 employees. Simply put, government should not get in the way of private business decisions.

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The provisions discriminate against Indian IT companies, but to be very clear, some U.S. IT providers would be blocked from providing these services.  Moreover, there would be very real and negative consequences to U.S. businesses that rely on these services.  The harmful effects would cut across an array of American industries looking to keep their business growing, from construction and transportation to travel and tourism.  These companies, customers of the 24/7 ‘knowledge economy’, rely on it to keep growing and creating jobs.

Ultimately, the provisions damage competiveness, imperil the thousands of American jobs that have been created as part of the building of that knowledge economy, and undercut the very drivers for making more IT professionals available to meet American needs. U.S. and Indian companies that bring temporary IT personnel to American businesses when such trained professionals are in short supply domestically provide a critical service in the U.S. marketplace – there is no reason for government policy to differentiate between any two IT companies that compete to provide essentially the same services in essentially the same ways with essentially the same labor pool.  High-skilled workers play a major role in the U.S. economy today. They work for our biggest job creators, are often entrepreneurs themselves and are directly contributing to the innovative companies that will employ Americans for generations to come. Until the U.S. can produce sufficient numbers of skilled professionals domestically, the reality is that talent must be sourced from around the globe so our companies can continue to compete successfully on the global stage.

That brings us back to timing. The Prime Minister of India visited the U.S. this week to discuss a myriad of issues with President Obama. In the past it’s been our ongoing bilateral dialogue that helped resolve differences. This issue is no different.  There has been a mutually beneficial partnership in place between the U.S. and India over the last several decades, involving a combination of American and Indian high-skilled personnel, resulting in tremendous innovation, and in turn creating American jobs and fueling U.S. industry’s global competitiveness.

U.S. policymakers need to understand the significant and harmful unintended consequences if legislation is passed containing provisions that would limit market entry of IT professionals. The final piece of legislation needs to ensure that high skilled visa programs continue to attract workers to the U.S. and allow American companies to have a competitive advantage in today’s highly competitive global marketplace.  My company and many other U.S. businesses stand behind that approach.

Banga is president and chief executive officer of MasterCard and chairman of the U.S.-India Business Council.