NEW DELHI: In A major relief to the over $60-billion IT industry, the government has relaxed employment visa norms for the sector, allowing companies to hire foreign nationals as per their requirements, effectively removing the ceiling of 20 such employees per company. The ministry of external affairs has circulated new guidelines to all missions abroad informing them of the relaxation in procedures for information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services (ITeS) companies. “It (the relaxation in norms) addresses concerns of the country’s IT and ITeS industry related to the employment visas,” said Raju Bhatnagar, vice-president (BPO and government relations), Nasscom. Technology companies that sponsor foreigners to work in India will need to give a declaration that the skilled worker has been hired for working in an IT or ITeS company or a software technology park of India or special economic zone dedicated to IT or an IT unit in a multi-product zone. On the other hand, the foreign worker being sponsored will have to give a declaration to the effect that his annual salary is in excess of $25,000 per annum. The salary cap is being introduced to ensure only highly skilled workforce comes to the country, a government official said. Last year, the labour ministry had, in consultation with the home ministry, introduced a number of changes in the visa rules after it found that there were thousands of Chinese workers, including low-skilled ones, such as cooks and masons, employed in power and steel projects being executed by Chinese contractors. The government had fixed the limit of employment visas to 1% of the total persons employed on a project, subject to a maximum of 20 employees. For relaxation in the upper limit, companies were required to take permission from the ministry of labour. The IT industry has found the mechanism cumbersome and said there was no clarity on the kind of references that were required to be furnished by companies. Nasscom, the industry body, had lobbied hard against the move arguing that the industry needs foreign professionals to run their business smoothly. However, there is no change in the ceiling on the total number of foreign employees for steel and power companies, which remains at 40 per company. “This will remove most of the hurdles that the IT/ITeS segment had faced with the earlier rules. I hope that the liberalised criteria get broad-based to cover other priority sectors such as infrastructure, energy, aviation, telecom, etc,” said Amitabh Singh, partner, Ernst & Young. A list of activities in the IT sector has also been circulated to missions abroad to make it easier for them to identify skilled workers and issue work visas.