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Business groups blast visa fee measure

Two major industry groups Wednesday blasted proposals to reform U.S. immigration policy, including pending legislation in Congress that would raise work-visa fees for foreign companies operating in the United States.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Council on International Personnel issued a report calling for a market-based system of granting H-1B visas to attract skilled foreign workers and allow employers to sponsor workers for green cards, citing excessive wait times to gain access to the United States.

"The best policy for the United States is one that sides with freedom and innovation, not restriction," the report stated. "It is a policy where the H-1B cap is either eliminated or set high enough that we can let the market decide on the number of new skilled foreign nationals who work in America each year."

During a conference call, officials from the groups slammed pending legislation that would increase the work-visa fees foreign companies must pay if they have more than 50 employees in their U.S. operations and hire more than half their workforce using H-1B or L-1 visas.

The bill would pump $600 million into security efforts along the border with Mexico,and it was approved by the House Tuesday. The Senate is expected to approve it when it returns for a special session Thursday, clearing the way for President Obama to sign it into law.

The U.S. Chamber opposes increasing visa fees, said Randel Johnson, the group's senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits. He said the fee mechanism was "an easy political shot" that lawmakers are pushing through without debate.

"This opens the door to using immigration fees to fund a whole variety of things," said Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the American Council on International Personnel.

The bill has also ignited a firestorm of opposition from other business groups, specifically India-based companies that would be primarily affected.

"It is totally outrageous in this day and age, when the world is so interconnected by the Internet, that draconian measures would be floated by the U.S. Congress that tar-brushes Indian companies as 'chop shops,' " said Ron Somers, president of the U.S.-India Business Council, in a statement.

"We urge the Congress and the Obama administration to amend this new funding method for border security and any policies that would harm America's economic interest and undermine the burgeoning economic, trade and strategic relationship with India," Somers added.

The report issued Wednesday also criticized a proposal backed by the AFL-CIO to create an independent commission to determine work-visa levels, saying it would not be responsive to business needs.

"A government commission to set the annual level of temporary visas and green cards would become a new set of obstacles employers would need to overcome to hire foreign nationals and could effectively end employment-based immigration to the United States," the report stated.

The report said the best policy would be to make it easier for employers to sponsor high-skilled individuals for green cards and allow well-educated college graduates to quickly obtain green cards.

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