WASHINGTON: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has strongly raised with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross India's concerns over the Trump administration's move to tighten the H-1B visa regime, highlighting the key role played by Indian professionals in boosting the American economy.
US President Donald Trump this week signed an executive order for tightening the rules of the H-1B visa programme to stop its "abuse" and ensure that the visas are given to the "most-skilled or highest paid" petitioners, a decision that would impact India's USD 150 billion IT industry.
The Indian IT industry has expressed serious concerns over the US' move to tighten the rules for grant of the H-1B visa, mainly used by domestic IT professionals for short-term work.
During the meeting, Jaitley raised the issue of recent executive orders which indicate a possible tightening of the H-1B visa regime.
He outlined the significant contributions the skilled Indian professionals have made to the US economy and expressed the hope that the US administration will take this aspect into consideration while taking any decision.
During the meeting -- the first cabinet-level interaction between the two countries under the Trump Administration -- Ross is believed to have said that US has started the process of reviewing H-1B visas issues and no decision has been taken on them yet, they said.
Ross is understood to have said that whatever the outcome of the review process, the Trump administration's objective is to have a merit-based immigration policy that gives preference to highly-skilled professionals.
The executive order signed by Trump earlier this week calls for a review of H-1B visas by the departments of State, Labour, Homeland Security and Justice.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialised fields. Indian technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year for their US operations.
The US market accounts for about 60 per cent of the revenue of the Indian IT industry.
Reforming the H-1B visa system was one of the major election promises of Trump. As per several US reports, a majority of the H-1B visas every year are grabbed by Indian IT professionals.
India accounts for the highest pool of qualified IT professionals, whose services go a long way in making American companies globally competitive.
As mandated by the Congress, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) every year issues 65,000 H-1B visas and another 20,000 to those applicants having masters and higher degrees from a US educational institution.
Jaitley, leading an Indian delegation, arrived here yesterday to attend the annual Spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Over the next two days, the Finance Minister is scheduled to hold a series of bilateral meetings with his counterparts from the US, Australia, France, Indonesia and Sweden. He is also likely to meet finance ministers from neighbouring Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Stressing that India-US relationship has bipartisan support in both the countries, the Finance Minister during his meeting with the US commerce secretary, said the two largest democratic countries of the world over the years have developed strong strategic, economic and defence ties.
The three phone conversations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump had, along with the officials meeting, has shown that the two governments are going to build on this momentum in the years to come, the officials said.
Briefing Ross on India's growth story, Jaitley is believed to have given him an insight into a series of "far reaching reforms" being undertaken by the Modi government post-demonetisation including the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The US Commerce Secretary Ross congratulated Jaitley on making the GST a reality, an official statement said in New Delhi.
Jaitley said the two countries should be able to move towards achieving the goal of USD 500 billion per annum in bilateral trade in the next few years.
The Finance Minister was accompanied by the India's Ambassador to the US, Navtej Sarna and Secretary Economic Affairs Shaktikanta Das.
In addition to his meetings and presentations at the annual Spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank, Jaitley is also scheduled to attend meetings of other multilateral forums including that of the G-20 finance ministers.
Before leaving Washington DC for New York on Sunday, he is expected to interact with think-tanks and eminent Indian- Americans.