US state department reviewing norms for B-1 in lieu of H-1B visa

The US may scrap a category of business visas that allows Indian companies to send employees to the North American nation to work on short-term projects in a move that indicates a tightening of immigration laws, according to a letter released on Wednesday by US senator Charles E. Grassley’s office.

Grassley had raised concerns that foreign-based firms may be using B-1 business visitor visas to circumvent restrictions on H-1B visas, in a April letter to secretary of state Hillary Clinton and department of homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano.

In response, the state department said it is working with the department of homeland security to consider “removing or substantially amending the FAM (foreign affairs manual) note” regarding the “B1 in lieu of H-1B” visa category.

The move comes just days after Infosys Technologies Ltd received a grand jury subpoena from an east Texas court requesting it provide “certain documents and records related to the company’s sponsorship for, and uses of B1 business visas”, reinforcing concerns among US lawmakers around the already-sensitive topic of immigration and misuse of visas.

Few Indian software firms use this category of visa, so any amendments to this particular visa category is unlikely to have any material impact on their operations. The visa category, B-1 in lieu of H-1B, allows companies to send workers to the US to engage in work generally limited to H-1B holders for short-term business projects, and is not subject to the prevailing wage requirements or caps that restricts H-1B visa use.