Next week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in India to co-chair the second U.S. India Strategic Dialogue. No one will be listening to that dialogue more intently than the executives at Infosys, the company that's being investigated by the State Department and other U.S. government agencies to determine whether it has engaged in criminal wrongdoing related to alleged visa fraud.
Last Friday, Robert O. Blake, Jr., the State Department's assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, discussed the upcoming Strategic Dialogue in a live Web chat and took questions from Indian journalists. One of the journalists asked this question:
There are increasing reports of rejections of H-1B and L1 visas to Indians from Indian companies. Why is this happening? And will this be discussed during the dialogue?
Here's Blake's response:
I don't know if this will be discussed or not. I know this remains a high priority for Indians. Let me just say that we want to stress that India already is the overwhelmingly largest recipient of H-1B and L visas. It receives more than 40 percent of the total number of those visas that are issued worldwide. So I don't think we need to apologize for that and I'm a bit surprised to hear that there are large numbers of rejections because, again, India has been the largest beneficiary of this program and we think that, again, this has been something that's good for India and good for the United States.
How good it's been for the United States is debatable, of course, but what isn't open to question is the damage that's being done by visa fraud and abuse committed by some Indian companies, and by some U.S companies that use workers from India. So Clinton absolutely needs to raise the issue during the dialogue, and to reinforce what finally appears to be a steep decline in the U.S. government's tolerance for visa fraud and abuse.
That decline is juxtaposed against the steep ascent of the feds' aggressiveness in determining whether criminal charges should be filed against Infosys, and of Infosys' discomfort with that criminal investigation and with the civil suit filed by Infosys employee and whistleblower Jay Palmer.
That Infosys is feeling the heat is getting more obvious by the day. At a press conference in Bangalore on Saturday, K.V. Kamath, Infosys' incoming chairman, said this in response to a question about protectionism and visa rules:
Any country that does business in other countries needs to understand the laws of that country. You cannot use short cut methods to do business in other countries.
Anyone who thinks that would have been the response of a top Infosys executive six months ago, before Palmer filed his suit and triggered the feds' criminal investigation, is only fooling himself. Kamath, a veteran banker who in May was named to replace outgoing chairman Narayana Murthy when he steps down next month, has to deal with the fact that understanding-and following-the laws of the United States does not appear to have been a particularly high priority for Infosys over the years. What forced it to at least acknowledge those laws was the two-by-four-upside-the-head wake-up call it got when it realized it wasn't going to be able to make Palmer's allegations quietly go away.