Sheela Murthy, a Harvard-educated immigration lawyer, founded Murthy Law Firm, which is based in the sprawling Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, in 1994, as a solo practice. The firm, which specializes in immigration law, has now grown to employ more than 80 lawyers in the U.S. and India.
Murthy was in Bangalore, India, over the weekend to talk to the city’s IT community about what it takes to succeed in the U.S., and she spoke with International Business Times about a wide range of issues including India-U.S. relations, the comprehensive immigration reform bill and the success of Indian technology companies in the U.S.
Here are edited excerpts of the interaction.
Q: What is the Murthy Law Firm all about?
A: Besides doing petitions and pre-presentation of individuals and companies on H1s, L1s and green cards, we also do lawsuit work. We sue the federal government for unacceptable delays in their processing of cases, which, we think, violates the constitutional right to speedy justice, because justice delayed is justice denied. Most people don’t know that we have a whole team that does mainly lawsuits and another team that help companies that are being investigated by the federal government.
Q: Are allegations of fraud against Indian companies common in the U.S.?
A: A lot of Indian companies are blamed of fraud in the U.S. It is very common. That’s why we have hired people and spend a lot of money to do this work.
Q: Your thoughts on immigration reform.
A: We had the Senate bill, which was passed in the summer of 2013, but I don’t think the House of Representatives is going to pass the bill. The year 2014 is an election year for the nation’s mid-term elections and, right now, the government is dealing with Obamacare and other things, rather than worrying about immigration. And again, less than 0.01 percent of the U.S. population is affected by immigration.
Q: How will the reform affect Indians living in the U.S.?
A: The reform will not affect Indians in the U.S. as much as it will affect Indian companies in India that are IT tech-reliant, because the draft bill that was passed doesn’t affect American companies. It doesn’t affect most people that are in the U.S. already. It will only affect Indian companies who will send people to the U.S. in the future, and those Indian companies that have more than 50 percent or 30 percent of their employees with H1 and L1 visas respectively.
Q: Do you think Indian companies are promoting their cause well enough?
A: No, they are not lobbying too well. Because, as the bill passed the Senate, they got a shock of their lives and realized that they better wake up. Indian companies should be doing a lot more lobbying, be much more politically savvy and not just thinking that it’s only about putting money in lobbyists’ pockets. They have to become clever and strategic in investing in, and hiring, good lobbyists and working with them. If you are going to work in America, you need to understand the American system, culture and the nation’s politics.
Q: Are Indian IT firms equipped to deal with immigration reform?
A: If the current version of the Senate bill becomes the law, I think the Indian tech firms will be hit tremendously. Their bottom-line will be affected and their profits will drop dramatically, so I don’t think they are prepared and have planned accordingly. The Indian economy will be affected enormously as it hugely relies on the tech sector.
Q: Other than H-1B and L1, is there a better solution to the visa issue?
A: The L1 was meant to deal with a lot of problems compared to H1, because you don’t have quota, you don’t have minimum wage, you don’t have prevailing wage and many other things. But, the problem is that the perception in America was that the whole system was badly abused and misused.
You have an alphabet soup of visas. But, the question is which of the other visa categories is applicable. Somebody who is very highly qualified can be eligible for the O, and if India had a treaty of friendship and commerce, then the E1 and E2 for entrepreneurs would work. But, for tech workers, H1 and L1 are the only two options available right now. And unfortunately, Indian companies are considered as highly suspicious, fraudulent, and abusing the system and misusing the system, by sending in body-shop workers.
Q: What is the future of the H-1B visa?
A: The future will depend on what kind of law is passed. Right now, we have no law and I don’t think that the Senate bill will go a long way. There are many good provisions that would help immigrants, students and entrepreneurs, while there are some bad provisions for tech companies as well.
Q: What about green cards for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields?
A: There are a lot of good proposals in the bill for giving them something, but unless the bill is passed, it’s nothing; it’s like a lot of hot air. America recognizes that there is a shortage of STEM students in the country today, but they also realize that they don’t want to take away jobs from American workers to help foreign students. Luckily, the universities lobby is very strong, that’s how they were able to add that extra 20,000 quota to the 65,000. Unless the U.S. economy improves, there is going to be anti-immigrant feelings and anti-Indian tech company feelings. But, if the economy improves, it will desperately need programmers and engineers, and then, they could be more open to those ideas.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Devyani Khobragade diplomatic row?
A: I would prefer not to comment on that because I have very strong views. Breach of the law is the breach of the law and I understand that there are a lot of sensitive issues involved, and I understand that 99 percent of Americans don’t know about this case; 99 percent of politicians who are Americans don’t know about it; and honestly, they don’t care about it. Their philosophy is very black and white.
Q: Do you think the controversy has affected Indo-U.S. ties?
A: It doesn’t affect the U.S.’s ties to India, but it affects India’s ties with the U.S. The question is who needs who more. Right now, I don’t know whether India needs America more or America needs India more. I think that India may need America for certain technologies. But, America needs India for individuals, and individuals don’t have a problem with America.