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India May Turn to WTO Over Higher U.S. Visa Fee, Official Says

Aug. 17 (Bloomberg) -- India said it may lodge a complaint against the U.S. at the World Trade Organization over legislation that may double visa costs, threatening to erode the competitiveness of Indian software-services companies.

The increase in visa fees is “WTO-incompatible,” Indian Trade Secretary Rahul Khullar, the top bureaucrat in the Department of Commerce, told reporters in New Delhi today. “If the U.S. wishes to put up its protectionist barriers to hurt itself, let them do it. But where a measure is specifically targeting my commercial interest, I cannot keep quiet.” He didn’t say when India planned to approach the Geneva-based WTO.

The U.S. Senate last week passed a bill that is likely to add $2,000 to fees for companies that would affect applicants for H-1B visas, which are used for skilled workers, and L visas, which are used for transfers at multinational companies. The increase could cost software-services companies based in India, such as Infosys Technologies Ltd. and Wipro Ltd., as much as $250 million a year, Som Mittal, president of Indian industry trade group Nasscom, said on Aug. 6.

Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma wrote a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Aug. 10 describing the bill as “highly discriminatory” and saying the legislation would primarily hurt companies of Indian origin.

Shares of Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., the country’s largest software-services provider, have dropped since the news about the bill came out on Aug. 6. Wipro has fallen 4.5 percent on the Bombay Stock Exchange while Tata has lost 3.2 percent and Infosys has declined 4.2 percent.

Technology companies such as Wipro and Infosys send skilled workers from overseas, often from India, to the U.S. to develop software and manage projects for customers in the country.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kartik Goyal in New Delhi at kgoyal@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Anstey at canstey@bloomberg.net.

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