H-1B visa issue under wraps, US flags trade concerns

news
28 June 2017

India and the United States have decided to review their economic ties with a view to make it mutually beneficial even as US President Donald Trump urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do more to relax trade barriers.

At a closely watched first meeting between the two on Monday, both leaders took great pains to stress the importance of a strong US-Indian relationship.

''I deeply appreciate your strong commitment to the enhancement of our bilateral relations,'' Modi told him. ''I am sure that under your leadership a mutually beneficial strategic partnership will gain new strength, new positivity, and will reach new heights.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, decided to avoid any mention of the H-1B visa issue during his two-day US visit even as the United States stuck to its demand that India review its intellectual property rights (IPR) and patent law enforcement as well New Delhi's decision to cap prices of medical devices.

''IPR has been flagged as the biggest concern that the US has with India during the trade policy review and during the visit,'' said an official requesting anonymity. ''The biggest stumbling block is its enforcement. It is a major roadblock when it comes to attracting high-technology transfers from the US, which in turn impacts investments.''

There was also no mention of the H-1B visa issue in the Indo-US joint statement issued after the two leaders met.

Meanwhile, a White House fact sheet states that Indian-Americans have been at the forefront of Silicon Valley's technology revolution, founding an estimated 15 per cent of Silicon Valley startups.

"They have helped to develop the Pentium chip, fiber optics, and noise cancelling headphones, among numerous other innovations," it said.

The fact remains that today, nearly four million Indian-Americans reside in the United States and over 700,000 US citizens live in India.

Last year, the United States government issued nearly one million visas to Indian citizens, and facilitated 1.7 million visits by Indian citizens to the United States.

According to the White House, the Trump administration has signed some executive orders related to work and immigration, and President Trump's executive order on H-1B visas directs the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Homeland Security to propose potential reforms to the H-1B visa programme.

"However, there have been no immediate changes to visa application or issuance procedures, so we're not in a position to kind of prejudge what the outcome of the review might be. So there's really been no changes as such at this point, and no specific changes that target any specific country or sector as of yet," said an official.

Trump signed an executive order in April for tightening the rules of the H-1B visa programme to stop "visa abuses". The President said his administration is going to enforce 'Hire American' rules that are designed to protect jobs and wages of workers in the US.

On the other hand, the Trump administration has made IPR issue one of its top priorities and the key to any big-ticket investments in India, sources said.

The US is also not ready to see the human aspect of IPR and judges purely from the commercial point of view, while India sees it as a development measure.

''From the halls of Congress to the Trump administration, US leaders have placed emphasis on ensuring American innovation is respected abroad. In India, that includes strengthening Intellectual Property standards to address issues with patentability, computer-related inventions, and copyright infringement,'' said Patrick Kilbride, Vice-President of International Intellectual Property for the US Chamber of Commerce's Global Intellectual Property Centre.

The US is also reported to have flagged concerns over the recent steps taken by the government to impose a price cap on medicines and medical devices.

In a letter sent to President Donald Trump, a day before Modi landed in the US, by US Congressional trade leaders and ranking members of the Senate Finance Committee Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden, and House Ways & Means Committee's Kevin Brady and Richard Neal, had specifically pointed out concerns of US businesses.

''While increased high-level dialogues between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump and other government agencies are welcome, they must result in concrete reforms that resolve roadblocks fully in order to achieve real market access gains,'' said Linda Dempsey, Vice-President for International Economic Affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers.





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