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H-1B visa debate: India says it’s a trade and services issue, talks tough after Trump move 

US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order directing to review the H-1B visa programme for high-skilled foreigners to ensure preference for the “most-skilled and highest-paid”.

india Updated: Apr 21, 2017 21:19 IST
New Delhi
H-1B visa,Donald Trump,Nirmala Sitharaman
US President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order to try to bring jobs back to American workers and revamp the H-1B visa guest worker programme during a visit to the headquarters of tool manufacturer Snap-On on April 18, 2017 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (REUTERS)

The foreign ministry said on Thursday it was keeping a “close watch” on theUS move to tighten H-1B visa rules that will impact the Indian IT industry and its professionals, asserting that the issue will be taken up with the Donald Trump administration.

Union commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the “whole debate” has to be expanded to include several American firms that are earning their profits in India, signalling that New Delhi could retaliate in the face of protectionism by the US and several other countries.

US President Trump has signed an executive order for tightening the rules of the H-1B visa programme to stop its “abuse” and ensure that the visas are given to the “most- skilled or highest paid” petitioners.

The US, under the new executive order, proposes to replace the current lottery system for issuing H-1B work visas with a merit-based approach.

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External affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay called the visa debate a “trade and services issue, and not a matter relating to immigration”.

He said India will make an overall assessment of the impact of the changes after the US’ internal process relating to the visa programme was over.

“There is a mutuality of interests involved,” he said, also referring to large number of US professionals working in American IT companies in India.

For her part, Sitharaman said: “Let us also understand that not just Indian companies in the US, several big US companies are in India too. They are also here, they are earning their margins, they are earning their profits which goes to the US economy.”

“So, it is a situation where it’s not just unilateral just Indian companies having too face the US executive order, there are several US companies in India who are doing business for some years now and therefore I want this whole debate to be ... if it has to be expanded, it has to be expanded to include all these aspects and we shall ensure that all these factors are kept in mind.”

She, however, preferred constructive engagement at this moment, but said India will not accept any “unfair treatment”.

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Baglay said the executive order has to be “acted upon”.

“It is an internal process in the US which will unfold in the coming days and weeks and we will keep a close watch on that. We will keep this issue on our radar,” he told reporters.

The MEA spokesperson also said India had already conveyed to the US about the contribution of Indian IT professionals to the the country’s competitiveness and innovation.

He also played down concerns over Australia replacing its popular 457 work visa regime with another programme, saying senior Australian officials have told India that it will have “negligible” impact on Indian professionals who are in high-skill category.

Australian Prime MinisterMalcolm Turnbull had on Tuesday announced his government’s decision to abolish a popular work visa used by over 95,000 foreign workers, majority of them Indians, to tackle the growing unemployment and replace it with a new programme requiring higher English-language proficiency and job skills.

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First Published: Apr 21, 2017 00:21 IST