Don't alter H-1B visa rules: India urges US

Don't alter H-1B visa rules: India urges US

The United States should refrain from changing the rules for its H-1 and L-1 visas that would inconvenience Indian professionals, New Delhi has said on Wednesday.

New Delhi also urged the Trump administration to end the impasse over the totalisation agreement to help the half a million Indians working on non-immigration visas avoid double taxation on social security.

In her meeting with the visiting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj conveyed India’s concerns over the proposed changes to H-1B and L-1 visa programmes by the Trump administration that would constrain skilled foreign professionals to work in the United States.

Tillerson, on his maiden visit to India after taking over as US Secretary of State, met Sushma at the Ministry of External Affairs headquarters in Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan.

 “We also discussed (during the meeting) the very significant contribution to the US economy of Indian skilled professionals who travel and work under H-1B and L-1 visa programmes,” Sushma said in a joint press conference with Tillerson.

Trump’s ‘America first’ rhetoric and promise to protect US jobs raised concerns back home that his policies would hit Indian IT professionals harder.

On March 31, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a guidance policy memorandum on “H-1B computer related positions” asking petitioners sponsoring computer programmers to offer proof that the position sought is a specialized occupation.

This would potentially restrict American companies to import foreign professionals through H1B visa programme to work in its IT industry.

On April 18, Trump issued an executive order -“Buy American and Hire American”- calling various departments of his administration to rigorously enforce laws on foreign workers’ entry into the US to create higher wages and rate of employment for locals.

The order also asked US officials to suggest reforms to ensure H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid beneficiaries.

The US has also laid severe restrictions to renew non-immigrant visas like H-1B and L-1 by putting the onus of proof on the applicants even when they seek extension.

The US Congress is currently considering six Bills that seek to change the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes to restrict foreign professionals to stay and work in America.

While asking the administration to refrain from making further changes to the visa regimes, India has also urged US lawmakers to resist any such moves in the Congress.

“I have also sought Secretary Tillerson’s support for resolution of long-pending issue of totalization and asked that nothing such should be done by US which adversely affects India’s interests,” Sushma said.

In 2015, India and the US resumed negotiations on a totalization agreement but made no headway.

Washington rejected New Delhi’s contention to take schemes like Atal Pension Yojana, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, Employees Provident Fund Organization and others to determine the size of the population covered under social security scheme.

Since the schemes are optional, the US is not obligated to negotiate a totalisation agreement with India, Washington had argued, pointing out that less than half of India’s population is covered by the social security schemes.

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