Work visa woes

H-1B visa changes: Nirmala Sitharaman hints at Centre retaliating to new US policy

American companies make profits in India as well, the commerce and industry minister said.

Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday said the debate on the United States’ H-1B visa policy should include American firms that make profits in India. Her statement indicates that the Centre may retaliate to the Donald Trump administration’s move to tighten its visa norms, which could affect an inordinate number of Indian workers.

“There are not just Indian companies in the US. Several big US companies are in India, too. They are earning their margins and profits, which go to the US economy,” she said. “It is a situation where it’s not just Indian companies facing the US executive order.”

Sitharaman emphasised that India will not accept “such unfair trade practices” and said it was the right time to build a global framework for services trade, The Economic Times reported. “Countries are now very clearly raising protectionist walls as regards service trade. It is time we have a global framework within which trade in services can happen. We will actively pursue our proposal in the World Trade Organisation,” the commerce minister said at an event in Delhi.

On Tuesday, Trump signed another executive order that introduces changes to the H-1B visa policy used by companies to hire foreigners for high-skilled jobs. The order has been dubbed the “Buy American, Hire American” order. With regard to this move, Sitharaman pointed out that Washington had committed a certain number of H-1B visas to India, and that the Centre expected the country to honour that commitment.

The order comes at a time when the number of applications for H-1B work visas has declined for the first time in five years. In March, the country had suspended the premium processing option for H-1B visas, which allowed firms to bring in highly-skilled workers in a few weeks, rather than in several months, for an additional amount.

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