India has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation over steep fee increases for US non-immigrant temporary work visas, in a tit-for-tat for US challenge of India's national solar power programme.
The WTO said in a statement that India has disputed the doubling of the fees for H-1B and L-1 work visas and the limiting of their numbers. The visas are typically used by thousands of Indian nationals hired by information technology services firms operating in the United States.
''India notified the WTO Secretariat that it has initiated a WTO dispute proceeding against the United States regarding measures imposing increased fees on certain applicants for two categories of non-immigrant temporary working visas into the US, and measures relating to numerical commitments for some visas. According to India, the measures appear to be inconsistent with US commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services,'' a WTO release stated.
The request for consultations formally initiates a dispute in the WTO. Consultations give the parties an opportunity to discuss the matter and to find a satisfactory solution without proceeding further with litigation. After 60 days, if consultations have failed to resolve the dispute, the complainant may request adjudication by a panel.
In its complaint, India had said that the current measures (of visa fee hike) results in less favourable treatment for Indian companies with commercial presence in the US in comparison to US companies engaged in providing like services.
This violates the principle of 'national treatment' embedded in multilateral trade rules, which lays down that foreign companies will be treated on a par with local firms, India pointed out.
The Obama administration had, in December, imposed a $4,000 fee for certain categories of H-1B visa and $4,500 for L1 visa through fresh legislation. This hurts Indian IT companies operating in the US the most since it applies only to companies that employ more than 50 foreigners, or which have more foreigners than locals working for them.
The measure would result in an estimated $400 million annual loss to the Indian IT industry, according to industry body Nasscom.
The US has to respond to the consultation request within 10 days and consultations are to begin within a month. The maximum period of consultations is 60 days after the reception of the request, unless both parties decide to extend them or suspend them.