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America will continue to be a country of immigrants: US ambassador to India addresses H-1B visa concerns

US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster stressed that immigrants helped drive the economy and growth of the United States and that was not going to change.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2018 07:26 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Kenneth Juster,H-1B visa,
US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster speaks on the US-India relations in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI Photo)

There could be some refinements in the visa processes in the United State but that will not change the fundamental fact that the US is a country of immigrants, US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster said on Thursday, allaying apprehensions about the possibility of change in the H-1B visa regime that could affect around 750,000 Indian H-1B visa holders.

Juster added that India has the opportunity of becoming a preferred destination for US companies, over China, and that there is no contradiction between the Trump administration’s America First policy and the Narendra Modi government’s Make in India campaign.

Juster made the remarks in his first interaction with the media in India after assuming office.

He sought to allay fears that proposed changes in the US visa policies would be to the major disadvantage of Indian skilled workers: “The US is a country of immigrants and that’s what helped drive our economy and our growth and made us what we are. And that’s not going to change,” said the envoy. He added that Washington was in the midst of a periodic review of visa processes. “Inevitably there are going to be some refinements but that will not change the fundamental fact that the US is a country of immigrants,” he said.

Juster pointed out the clarification issued by the US administration about H-1B visa holders to buttress his point.

The Trump administration had earlier proposed changing a rule that allowed H-1B visa holders to stay on in the US, after the six years allowed under the visa, if their residency application is being processed. This process has a huge backlog, which means visa holders whose residency papers are being processed do not have to worry about being sent back. On Monday, the US clarified that it had dropped plans to change the rule.

Speaking about America First and Make in India, Juster said investing in each other’s markets would be beneficial to the two countries. “It will increase our economic interactions and volume of trade, lead to collaboration on emerging technologies and create jobs in both countries,” he added.

Many US corporations are downgrading their operations in China, Juster said. “A number of US companies have reported increasing difficulties conducting business in the largest market in the region — China. Accordingly, some companies are downgrading their operations there, while others are looking with great interest at alternative markets.”

Juster said that Prime Minister Modi’s efforts to push ahead with economic and regulatory reforms would help ensure that India is seen as an increasingly efficient, transparent and well-regulated market.

“This will further promote growth and development. Continued reforms and trade liberalisation will also enable Indian products to more readily become part of the global supply chain, thereby accelerating job creation,” he added. Bilateral trade between India and the US increased from approximately $20 billion in 2001 to $115 billion in 2016.

Juster said that shared values and “common interests” inform the vision of New Delhi and Washington for the strategically significant Indo-Pacific region, in which the US considers India to be a “leading power”. The two countries have spoken of an Indo-Pacific partnership to counter China in the region. The envoy used the term Indo-Pacific 13 times in his speech, and spoke of coordination with other like-minded countries in the region, including Japan and Australia. For the first time in ten years, India, US, Australia and Japan held quadrilateral consultations for Indo-Pacific region last year in a bid to counter the aggressive China.

Though Juster didn’t mention Pakistan, he said, “President Trump and other US leaders have been clear that we will not tolerate cross-border terrorism or terrorist safe havens anywhere.” The US recently suspended military aid to Islamabad, accusing it of not walking the talk on terrorism.

First Published: Jan 11, 2018 22:28 IST