India to oppose US move to set occupation-specific visa norms

Restrictions imposed by the US and other western countries on the mobility of skilled Indian professionals have long been of concern to India


A file photo of commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
A file photo of commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

New Delhi: India will oppose any move by the US to set occupation-specific ceilings, under its overall work visa permits, and will raise the matter at the first India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (SCD) to be held in Washington on Tuesday.

“We will raise our concerns over high visa fees, high rate of (visa) rejection. We also want to be sure that there is no industry-specific ceilings within the overall working visa cap. We don’t want that kind of allotment,” said a commerce ministry official on condition of anonymity.

Restrictions imposed by the US and other western countries on the mobility of skilled Indian professionals—to live and work in those countries—have long been of concern to India.

Proposed restrictive measures on skilled non-immigrant visas threaten Indian information technology (IT) firms, more so because existing issues related to the US H1B/L1 visa fee hike, a difficult visa grant process, increased processing time and higher rejection rates are yet to be resolved.

Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice-president (events, research and communication) at the software industry lobby NASSCOM, said constant investigations against Indian technology companies have created an atmosphere of negativity, although these firms are ready to cooperate with the US authorities.

“We hope for a healthy dialogue between the two sides on issues such as greater parity related to visa and immigration, totalization agreement and future areas of cooperation, such as cyber security and Internet of things,” she added.

India and the US used to hold separate dialogues on strategic and commercial issues.

But during the visit of the US President Barack Obama to India in January 2015, a decision was taken to elevate them into a single dialogue—making it the most comprehensive mechanism for discussing the specifics of India-US cooperation in different fields.

The Indian delegation at the composite dialogue will be led by the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and includes trade minister Nirmala Sitharaman, power, coal and new and renewable energy minister Piyush Goyal and senior officials.

The US delegation will include secretary of state John Kerry, secretary of commerce Penny Pritzker and secretary of energy Ernest Moniz.

“The SCD is expected to review the entire gamut of bilateral relations between India and the US and also identify possible areas for future cooperation, including in strategic defence and security; energy and environment; science and technology and space; health, education and human development; third-country engagement; economy and finance; and trade and investment fields,” said the ministry of external affairs.

Scheduled for Monday, ahead of the composite dialogue, are ministerial talks on energy, an India-US CEO Forum and secretary-level talks on the climate change.

India will emphasise the need to cooperate in the areas of standards between institutions of repute on either side, such as the Bureau of Indian Standards and American National Standards Institute.

“We will also stress the importance of technical cooperation and exchange between regulators and the need for establishing a technical dialogue. We will raise our concern on non-tariff barriers such as for marine products,” the Indian government official added.

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