The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jaitley to take up visa cudgels

New Delhi, June 5: New Delhi has described the proposed US move to impose fresh visa restrictions on Indian information technology workers as a “trade distortion” and said the issue would be taken up urgently with Washington.

Commerce and law minister, Arun Jaitley, who will be visiting the US next week, says he will take up the matter. “I will take it up with the US when I visit the country,” the minister said.

A Republican representative from Florida, John L. Mica, has introduced a Bill this month to prevent US companies from hiring foreigners holding L-1 visas. Under this category, American companies are allowed to transfer employees from a foreign branch or subsidiary to their offices in the US.

But many companies are now routinely using the L-1 Visa to bring in their employees from India and other parts of the world to the US and are even contracting them out to American companies.

Since in many cases, the foreign workers take the jobs of American workers, pressure has been mounting in the US to impose stricter visa restrictions to stop this practice.

Unfortunately for New Delhi, the L-1 visa has mostly been used by Indian software companies based in the US to get in employees from India and later contract them out to other American companies. The new restrictions on L-1 visas will affect Indians the most.

Terming the proposed legal measures for restricting movement of software personnel from India through the L-1 visa category as a “non tariff barrier”, Jaitley said New Delhi would seek further relaxation on existing visas to enable freer movement of service sector professionals.

The minister said the US was India’s major trading partner, with trade totalling nearly $16 billion last year. He said the proposed visa restrictions were a dichotomy at a time when developed countries were pressing for access to developing markets in areas where they were strong.

“Market access cannot be confined only to the developed countries but should also be extended to developing countries in areas where they are strong,” Jaitley said.

On the proposed new legislation to restrict government procurement from domestic companies, the minister said government procurement was not high at present.

But Jaitley said such a legislation would hinder movement of professionals — an issue India has pursued vigorously at the World Trade Organisation.

Asked about India’s trade prospects especially in the light of the SARS outbreak in China and US operations in Iraq, Jaitley said these developments would help India improve its already-robust export performance.

He pointed out that despite the global slowdown after the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, exports have performed brilliantly. India had registered an export growth of over 18 per cent, Jaitley said.

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