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India steps up efforts to lobby against H1-B visa curbs threatening tech sector

New Delhi:  India has stepped up its lobbying effort against moves in the US Congress to impose curbs on visas for skilled workers that threaten the tech sector, which employs more than 3.5 million people.

Speaking to news agency Reuters, Trade Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said New Delhi has reached out to the administration of President Donald Trump to stress the importance of India’s $150-billion IT services industry to US citizens.

“India’s investments in the United States have provided jobs to US citizens,” she said in an interview. “That has to be brought to the notice of the US administration.”

The comments come days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Washington to keep an open mind on admitting skilled Indian workers.

Indian software companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd shot to prominence in the 1990s by helping Western firms stamp out the “Y2K” bug.

Trump’s “America First” rhetoric on jobs, however, has put their biggest market under threat.

A bill was introduced in the US Congress last month to more than double the minimum salary of H-1B visa holders, which could significantly boost costs for IT companies, whose margins are already being squeezed.

New Delhi has backed a move by NASSCOM, India’s high-tech industry association, to lobby US lawmakers and companies to urge the administration not to crack down on allowing its skilled workers into the United States.

A NASSCOM delegation is now in the United States to make its case to officials on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

“We will have to engage with the new administration,” Ms Sitharaman said. “Our engagement at every level is intact and continuing.”

Indians are by far the largest group of recipients of the 65,000 H-1B visas issued annually to new applicants under a cap mandated by Congress. More than 60 percent of the US employees of Infosys hold H-1B visas.

A global pact on services trade would go a long way towards settling disputes over professional visas, Ms Sitharaman said.

“If only there is a framework…you will know how movement can happen and how certain restrictions can or cannot come,” she said. “It’s time for countries to sit together and look at it.” (Courtesy: Asian Age)

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