(Left): File photo of India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj as she speaks during a media availability with erstwhile U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after their meeting at the Indian Foreign Ministry in New Delhi, Oct. 25, 2017. (Alex Brandon/AFP/Getty Images)
(Right): India’s Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman during the Monsoon session of Parliament, in New Delhi, July 25. (Manvender Vashist/PTI)

The government expressed concern, July 26, over the tightening of the visa regime in the United States following President Donald Trump’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ policy and said it would effectively raise the issue at the ‘2+2 dialogue’ to be held in New Delhi, in September.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha that there has not been any reduction in the number of H-1B visas to Indians so far, as “no significant changes” in the visa regime have taken place yet.

Responding to queries from members during Question Hour, the minister said the government has taken up the issue with the U.S. authorities at various bilateral meetings and fora and also raised it with several U.S. Congressmen.

“This is an issue of concern not just for the government and the opposition, but the entire House and the nation shares this concern,” she told the members.

Swaraj said “the danger is looming large” as the strengthening of the U.S. visa regime could lead to reduction in the number of H1-B visas as the rules may be made more strict.

She said to ensure that this does not happen, the government is making efforts and talking to the White House, the State Administration and the Congressmen.

“We have already raised the issue at our formal interactions.

“I assure you that the ‘2+2 dialogue’ which is to be held in Delhi on Sept. 6, in which the External Affairs and Defense ministers of both countries will participate, we will certainly and forcefully raise this issue during that too,” Swaraj told the members.

She said she has taken up the issue during her meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as well as U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, while the Finance Minister had raised the matter with U.S. Finance Secretary.

“The Government has decided to continue our engagement with the U.S. side proactively,” she said.

In her written reply, Swaraj said this process was still underway and “no comprehensive changes have been made to the work-visa program so far.”

“I would like to state that so far there is no significant change with regard to H-1B Visas. Changes have taken place, but no significant changes are there so far,” she said.

Disclosing details, the minister said the number of H-1B visas have gone up from over 108,000 in 2014 to 129,000 visas now.

Citing official figures, she said while in 2014, a total number of 108,817 H-1B visas were issued, a total of 119,992 such visas were issued the next year.

“In our engagements, we have emphasized to the U.S. side that the movement of Indian skilled professionals to the U.S. has been a mutually-beneficial partnership which should be nurtured.

“They have contributed to the growth and development of the U.S. economy and have helped the U.S. retain its comprehensive edge and innovation advantage,” she said.

Swaraj said first came the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ policy memorandum, then they said that the contract and itinerary will be handed over at the time of filing a petition (for visa).

Thereafter, a notification came whereby the documents provided at the first opportunity would be taken into account and visa could be denied on the basis of original documents submitted.

“The U.S. Administration has taken some steps towards stricter enforcement of the world visa programs,” she said, adding that these include placing the burden on the petitioner to demonstrate that the beneficiary is employed in a third-party worksite for a specific assignment in a speciality occupation.

Listing out the steps taken towards stricter enforcement of work visas, she said these include applying the same level of scrutiny to both original petitions and extension requests, issue of memos by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by multiple H-1B filings.

The Minister also said that full discretion has been given to USCIS adjudicators to deny an application or petition without prior filing of a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) in certain cases on the basis of initial evidence.

“Some of these measures would necessitate additional documents on the part of the petitioner or applicant,” she said.