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Sushma Swaraj raises H-1B visa concerns during talks with US secy of state Tillerson

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj “strongly raised” the H-1B visa programme, which is facing intense scrutiny by the US administration, during her meeting with her US counterpart Rex Tillerson.

world Updated: Sep 23, 2017 10:50 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Sushma Swaraj,Rex Tillerson,UN General Assembly
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson meets Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel on September 22, 2017. (AFP)

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj “strongly raised” the vexatious issue of H-1B visas for highly skilled professionals, facing intense scrutiny by the Trump administration, at her first bilateral meeting with her American counterpart Rex Tillerson on Friday.

Meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Swaraj also brought up with Tillerson the plight of the nearly 8,000 undocumented immigrants from India brought to the US as children who could be deported when an Obama-era regulation protecting them expires next March.

The two officials, who had spoken on phone before and met for the first time during a trilateral meeting with their Japanese counterpart earlier this week, also discussed “regional issues, with a focus on Pakistan, Afghanistan and terrorism”, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.

Swaraj “strongly raised the issue of H1B visa and children falling under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) policy” with Tillerson, Kumar added in another tweet.

There was no indication of Tillerson’s response to Swaraj on the H-1B issue. The state department readout of their meeting said they looked forward to convening the new “2 plus 2” meeting of the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries and the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

There was also no word from the US side to the plight of undocumented immigrants raised by Swaraj. This is part of a larger political, and extremely emotive, debate taking place in the US about the fate of nearly 800,000 people brought illegally to the country as children.

Former president Barack Obama had prevented their deportation with an executive order called DACA, which President Donald Trump has ordered to be ordered shut down in six months from now, during which time Congress could legislate to legitimise their status.

The issue of H-1B visas, popular with Indian IT companies, has emerged as a key irritant in India-US relations after President Donald Trump took office. As he had promised during his campaign, he ordered a review of the temporary visa programme whose critics believe is taking away American jobs, now filled by foreigners, mostly Indians.

H-1Bs are key to the business model of top Indian IT companies operating in the United States, such as Tata Consultancy Service, Infosys and Wipro, which stand to suffer considerably if the programme is curtailed or redesigned.

These companies are in the crosshairs of the White House. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was expected to raise the matter at his meeting with Trump in June, but it did not come up at all. Both sides had seemed keen then to get the relationship off to a good start since this was the first meeting of the two leaders.

The largest country-specific recipients of H-1Bs are Indians, accounting for nearly 70% of all visas issued under this category in 2014, though not all of them were employed by Indian IT companies. Many Indians are hired by US companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft who back the scheme.

First Published: Sep 22, 2017 20:20 IST