Unhappy with the US decision to increase short-term work visa fees which has hit Indian IT companies hard, the Commerce Ministry is examining various options to convince Washington to re-consider the move.

New Delhi is keen on sorting out the issue through bilateral discussions but is also trying to build a case for raising the matter at the World Trade Organisation if talks don’t get results, a government official told BusinessLine .

“Inputs have been sought from the Indian industry on how individual IT firms operating in the US would be affected by the visa fee hike. This information is important to show the extent of injury being caused, specifically to Indian IT companies, because of the decision,” the official said.

Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama signed into law a $1.8-trillion spending package which introduced a $4,000 fee for certain categories of H-1B visa and $4,500 for L1 visa.

IT firms hit

Since the visa fee hike is only for companies that employ more than 50 foreigners or which have more foreigners than locals working for them, it is companies such as Infosys and Wipro that will get hit.

Representatives from IT body Nasscom, which has estimated a $400-million annual hit for the sector, met senior officials from the Commerce Ministry on Wednesday to assess the exact impact of the visa fee hike.

“Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to raise the matter with US Trade Representative Michael Froman soon to express the country’s concerns about the seemingly discriminatory treatment towards Indian IT companies,” the official said.

Sitharman had written to US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and US Deputy National Security Adviser Caroline Atkinson on the issue before the Bill was passed.

An enhanced visa fee on Indian IT companies was first introduced in 2010 as part of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 for funding healthcare requirements of 9/11 terror victims. While the legislation lapsed in September this year, it was re-introduced as part of the Omnibus Appropriation Act and the visa fee doubled.

India can fight a case at the WTO against the measure if it has enough data to demonstrate that the visa fee hike is affecting only Indian IT companies operating in the US and is affecting their competitiveness.

“To do that, the government is heavily dependent on inputs given by the IT industry which has not been very forthcoming in the past,” the official added.

Exports from the Indian IT sector was around $82 billion in 2014-15, with the US among the top markets.