Both the External Affairs Ministry and the White House on Thursday said the United States government’s new policies were aimed at deterring illegal immigrants only, and not holders of H-1B visas. Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said skilled Indian professionals were considered “a positive” for the US economy. “We have conveyed to the US side that H-1B is a trade and business issue, an economy issue,” he said.

Baglay also referred to President Donald Trump’s first address to Congress, where he spoke about a merit-based immigration system. “You would have seen that senior US officials have stated that illegal immigration and not H-1B is their priority,” said Baglay. “You would have also seen that from President Trump himself there was a reference to a merit-based approach on the subject.”

The White House also said that the Donald Trump administration does not have any immediate plans to change the H1-B visa programme, reported The Hindu, and those applying in the current cycle will not be affected. However, press secretary Sean Spicer cautioned that “there is a natural desire to have a comprehensive look” at all visa programmes. Spicer, too, advocated the merit-based immigration system. “He [Donald Trump] mentioned it in his joint address that we’re one of only a handful of countries that doesn’t use a merit-based system of immigration, and that is something that we need to look at in its totality,” he said.

Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro and several other IT companies seek a considerable number of H-1B visas to send Indian workers to the US. IT stocks in Indian markets have taken a hit since news emerged that the High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act, 2017 had been introduced in the US House of Representatives, calling for more than doubling the minimum salary of H-1B visa holders. This would make it much more expensive for IT firms to hire professionals from outside the US without justifying why they have not employed US citizens.

More that three lakh Indian engineers are believed to be on H-1B visas in the US. The application process starts on April 1 every year.