Notwithstanding India’s objection, the U.S. Congress has doubled a special fee on the popular H-1B and L-1 visas raising it up to $4,500 to fund a 911 healthcare act and biometric tracking system that will hit Indian IT companies, writes Lalit K. Jha. (@Siliconeer, #Siliconeer, #H1B, #USCIS, #TiESV)

Congressional leaders, while agreeing on the $1.1 trillion spending bill, decided to impose a special fee of $4,000 on certain categories of H-1B visas and $4,500 on L-1 visas.

The money generated from the special fee, expected to be more than a $1 billion per annum, would be used to fund a biometric entry and exit tracking system, in addition to funding health screenings and treatments for 911 first responders.

According to the agreed bill, the new $4,000 fee would apply to companies having at least 50 employees with 50 percent of their employees on H-1B or L-1 visa. Such companies would have to pay a new fee of $4,000 for H-1B visas and $4,500 for L-1 visas.

While the specific provisions of the spending bill has no mention of Indian IT companies, the language of the bill has been written in such a way that it would have a big impact on Indian IT companies.

Though the lawmakers behind the bill described it as a temporary provision, the new H-1B and L-1 visa fee increase is for a period of 10 years as against a previous provision of five years. The previous such provision from 2010 to 2015 of $2,000 for H-1B visas lapsed on September 30.

In a study released in September this year, NASSCOM, a trade association of Indian IT industry, said Indian IT companies have paid between $70-$80 million annually for the U.S. Treasury approximately. Given that, the new punitive measure is expected to raise between $1.4 billion and $1.6 billion every year for the next one decade.

Expecting that this provision would generate more than $1 billion per annum, the bill says that after $1 billion is deposited for 911 first responders and the Biometrics Ext account, the rest of the money would be deposited in the general fund of the Treasury.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue with U.S. President Barack Obama when the latter telephoned him to thank for his leadership role on achieving the historic agreement on climate change in Paris on Dec. 12.

“The Prime Minister shared with President Obama the concerns of the Indian IT industry and professionals on the proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress relating to H-1B and L-1 visas,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office in New Delhi.

US Congress Passes $1.1 Trillion Package, Increases H-1B Fee

The U.S. lawmakers in quick succession passed a $1.8 trillion spending package, which among other things introduced a hefty $4,000 on H-1B visas for Indian IT companies and imposed stringent condition on America’s aid to Pakistan.

The bill which includes a $1.1 trillion spending bill that funds the government until September 30, 2016, as well as a $680 billion tax package now heads to the White House for the President Barack Obama to sign into a law, which he is expected to shortly.

The bill comes as a shock for the Indian IT companies as they would have to pay millions of dollars while applying for H-1B visas, as they heavily rely of this work visa for highly skilled IT workers to get their work done in the U.S.

According to the bill they would have to pay an additional $4,000 for H-1B visa and $4,500 for L1 visa.

The bill, known as an “omnibus” has also made U.S. aid to Pakistan more stringent by asking the secretaries of state and defense to certify the Islamabad is taking actions against terrorist networks and meeting other conditions. But the provision of a national interest waiver nullifies such conditionalities.

Congressional leaders from both the parties hailed the passage of the Omnibus spending bill as a major achievement as lawmakers left for their respective for Christmas.

The omnibus lifts the 40-year-old ban on U.S. crude oil exports while extending solar and wind energy tax credits that Democrats say will create renewable energy jobs and reduce carbon emissions.

The bill also reforms the U.S. visa waiver program in the wake of deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., and intensifies U.S. cyber security efforts.