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Indians with H-1B highly skilled, legal: Jaitley in meeting with US officials

H-1B visas allow US-based companies to hire highly skilled foreigners and L-1 visas allow intra-company transfers to the US from overseas, and both are extremely popular with Indian companies.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2017 08:16 IST
Yashwant Sinha and Gireesh Chandra Prasad
Yashwant Sinha and Gireesh Chandra Prasad
Hindustan Times, Washington/New Delhi
India-US relations,finance minister Arun Jaitley,Wilbur Ross
Finance minister Arun Jaitley speaking at an event organised by the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum and FICCI in Boston on October 11, 2017. (PTI)

Indians coming to America on H-1B visa are not illegal economic immigrants but highly qualified professionals, finance minister Arun Jaitley told US officials.

Their position must be considered “appropriately” in future policy decisions, Jaitley said, reaffirming India’s concerns about the changes the Donald Trump is considering in non-immigrant visa regimes.

“Those coming from India on H-1B visas are high-value professionals, who contribute immensely to the US economy … They come here legally,” he told reporters in an interaction on Saturday, winding down his week-long US visit.

The minister also said his government’s top priority is to create jobs for the millions of young people entering the workforce every year.

Jaitley cited employment generation, slowdown in investments and the impact of the US Federal Reserve’s move to restore normal monetary conditions on emerging economies as the three policy challenges before his government.

He was in Washington DC to attend a meeting of the International Monetary and Finance Committee (IMFC), the panel that advises the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to a finance ministry statement.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde was optimistic about India’s medium-term prospects.

She told reporters that despite a slight lowering of growth projections for India for the current year and the next, the multilateral agency sees “a very solid track ahead for the Indian economy” for the medium term.

In October, the IMF cut its growth estimate for the Indian economy by 0.5 percentage point to 6.7% for 2017, blaming the aftershocks of last year’s demonetisation exercise and the rollout of the goods and services tax (GST) this July.

Jaitley said India is one of the few large economies in the world in a “virtuous phase of its demographic transition and the most important priority of the government is to find ways to provide employment to the 12 million young people entering the workforce annually”.

The minister lashed out at criticism of the continuing slowdown in the Indian economy, saying it’s coming from those who “normally don’t see beyond their nose” and are missing indicators of a turnaround and those beset by “immaturity”, including some within the BJP.

The BJP government faced criticism from party veteran Yashwant Sinha and RSS-affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh after the economy posted declining growth, 5.7% in the previous quarter.

The Narendra Modi government was also targeted by the opposition for what it said the failure to match its election promise of creating millions of jobs. With the 2019 general elections drawing near, the government is stepping up efforts to find jobs for the expanding workforce.

“For creating more jobs in the traditional way, manufacturing and construction sectors have to improve … We need to restore the competitiveness of sectors such as textiles, gems and jewellery, which contribute to job creation,” said DK Joshi, chief economist at Crisil Ltd.

Uncertainties linked to the H-1B visa in America had exacerbated tension over shrinking job opportunities at home for many skilled professionals.

The non-immigrant and temporary H-1B work visa is the most sought after by Indian techies as it allows US companies to employ foreign workers. Indian technology companies depend on the H-1B visa too to hire thousands of employees each year for their US operations.

Jaitley told US treasury and commerce secretaries Steven Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross about India’s concerns.

President Donald Trump and key members of his administration, including attorney general Jeff Sessions, said the H-1B visa policy is behind Americans losing jobs to foreigners brought to the country on lowers wages and benefits. Critics of the system have also alleged fraud.

Trump has ordered a review of the system, under his overarching vision of “Buy American, Hire American”, to eliminate abuse and fraud and to ensure jobs were not going to foreigners at the cost of Americans.

First Published: Oct 13, 2017 21:36 IST