India to take up visa fee with US

Obamas visit to highlight strength of Indo-US ties

Speaking to journalists here on Monday, US officials said that issues such as visa, outsourcing curbs, defence, trade, health, market access and high-tech exports will be on the agenda when President Barack Obama visits the country next month for his longest-ever official visit abroad.

However, they indicated that Obama’s visit may not lead to the resolution of Indian IT companies’ concerns relating to visa fee hike. “The US government understands the concern and potential impact of visa regulations on Indian companies. We know that American economy is an open economy and that the US is the No 1 destination for Indian investment. Friction often comes up (but) we have to work out (a solution), we are eager to hear them out. We will find a way to take care of some of their problems. The President’s trip is not the right way of looking at it. How to harmonise the way forward is the issue,” a senior official said.

The Obama administration had recently hiked H1-B and L1 visa fee for foreign companies, particularly outsourcing giants from India, a controversial step that could cost India’s IT industry $200 million a year.

US officials are also hoping that India would sign a key global convention so that the civil nuclear liability legislation will be consistent with international norms and enable the start of a nuclear commerce between the two countries. “India signing the CSC (Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage), a global treaty that gives India access to global funds in case of a nuclear accident, will be a positive step,” they added.
While admitting that India’s participation in the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has been “under discussions”, they added that New Delhi’s membership in the nuclear cartel will have to be agreed to by all NSG members by consensus.

Noting that space, climate change, science and technology, clean energy and market access would also be discussed during the November 6-9 visit, the officials observed that Obama’s trip would give a major boost to the multi-dimensional engagement between the two major democracies.  “Not just talking about it, we need to see some things that are going to demonstrate that this relationship has pay-offs,” the officials remarked.

Indicating that boosting bilateral trade would be a major issue during the talks, they noted that bilateral trade was expected to top $50 billion this year. “Between 2004 and 2008, our two-way trade doubled to $43 billion. This figure is expected to double in five years. There was some drop in 2009 due to worldwide recession but the way ahead is encouraging.”

Describing the Indo-US relations as “par-equal” and not that of a “donor-donee” any more, the officials reiterated that India is an “indispensable” partner of the United States in the 21st century.

Referring to Singh’s US visit last year, a US government official said, “A year later, we don’t want to be talking about it, but demonstrate in clear terms how the partnership will move forward and significantly,” the official added.

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