Problems being faced by the domestic IT industry on the H-1B visa front are expected to figure during the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump next week in Washington. Modi is slated to visit the US during June 25-26. Asked whether India would raise the H-1B issue during Modi’s visit, Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said: “I cannot say what would be the issues that would come up in the discussion. This is one of the issues on the table. (But) it is not the only issue. But in the event the issue comes up, it would certainly be taken up.”
Teaotia also said the US has started a trade policy review of those countries with which it has adverse trade balance and India is ninth on that list. India has time and again raised the issue of H-1B with the US authorities and asked them to liberalise their visa regime as Indian companies contribute significantly to the American economy.
The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialised fields. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year. On the trade policy review being carried out by the US, she said India and the US have a robust mechanism under the trade policy forum (TPF) to discuss matters like stents and others.
She said other issues like market access for products and those relating to investments are all being dealt with regularly at the TPF meetings. “The US has commenced a trade policy review of those countries with which it has adverse trade balance and India is ninth on the list of those countries. So certainly, we would figure, but we are confident that our exports to the US are a win-win for both countries in the sense that we are able to provide cheaper products,” Teaotia added.
The secretary further said a cross-section of Indian companies supports American industry in becoming much more competitive. “Therefore, this is a partnership that has many benefits across sectors and I think this would be the trend of our communication with the US,” she added. The bilateral trade between the two increased to $64.67 billion in 2016-17, from $62.11 billion in the previous fiscal. The trade balance is in favour of India. The US, under a new executive order, proposes to replace the current lottery system for issuing H-1B work visas with a merit-based approach.
The country is reviewing its visa programme for foreign workers to curb purported abuse and frauds related to visas. Indian IT companies use temporary work visas to send employees to work on client sites. With visa programmes in countries like the US becoming more rigorous, domestic technology firms will face challenges in movement of skilled professionals and spike in their operational costs.