Will look into concerns on visa fee hike: US assures India


New Delhi: The US on Tuesday assured that it will look into concerns related to visa fee hike after India sought “just and non-discriminatory” solution to the issue as well as on the social security pact.

The US, however, maintained that the visa fee hike was not targeted against Indian professionals, and was part of an
across-the-board policy change.

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During a joint presser after Indo-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said she has sought Secretary of State John Kerry’s support for resolution of long-pending issues of totalisation and the fee hike for H1B and L1 visa that impact people-to-people exchanges, “which is a vital source of strength for our relationship”.

Citing data, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said Indians were major “beneficiaries” as about 69 percent of US H1B visas and 30 percent of all L1 visas were issued to them last year.

She was responding to a question on visa at a joint press conference by Kerry, Swaraj and Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

“Any changes that have been made towards H1B and L1 visa applications… they are not limited or focused on Indian
nationals. They are really across the board change.

“But given the concerns expressed by Indian industry, I committed to Minister (Nirmala) Sitharaman to look into this and report back,” she said.

Sitharaman on her part said the visa issue was raised during the 2nd Indo-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue
(S&CD) as well as in the CEO Forum.

“Secretary Pritzker came forward proactively and spent some time (with industry representatives) and then she has
offered that she will look into this matter definitely…,” Sitharaman said.

The minister said there was a “feeling” and “impression” that probably the Indian industries are being targeted due to increase in the US visas fee.

Sitharaman further said to dispel the feeling of being “targeted”, Pritzker came up voluntarily during the CEO
Forum meeting and assured to look into the visa issue.

“We did raise it (visa issue). We voiced our concerns. We gave estimates as to what damage it has given to industry,”
she added.

India has time and again raised the issue of hike in visa fees by the US. It has also filed a case in the WTO against
the US decision to impose high fees on temporary working visas.

When asked whether both the sides discussed about the bilateral investment treaty (BIT), Pritzker said a high
standard US-India BIT will provide real economic benefits to both the countries and will significantly boost India to
attract investments from America.

“But it is not in anyone’s interest or neither of our interest to negotiate an agreement that does not meet those high standards,” she said.

Pritzker also said the US has made enormous progress in facilitating financing for energy and infrastructure projects,
investments in smart cities, supporting small businesses, innovation and entrepreneurship.

On BIT, Sitharaman said the model text was shared with the US authorities and “we certainly want to have inputs coming from them based on that we would like to continue the dialogue towards BIT”.

Giving a statement at the joint press briefing, she said a number of recommendations made during the previous two
editions of S&CD have already been acted upon. Based on the CEO forum recommendations, India and the US
have agreed to take a focused intervention in several areas.

“We have launched a transparent government e-market place (GeM). We have agreed to look at best practices exchange with GSA, Advantage which deals with government procurement in the US,” she said.

India and the US will work on best practices on procurement models and will look at collaboration between the
Department of Expenditure and USTDA. Taking forward innovation and entrepreneurship work stream, both the countries agreed to focus on small and medium scale enterprises.

“We would be looking at creating a platform for sharing of best practices and technology as also address issues of
finance and market access for SMEs and thus promote their integration into global value chains,” Sitharaman said.

Both the leaders also agreed on a programme called ‘Silicon Valley comes to India’ which will have experts from
the US coming to India to interact with start ups and provide the required momentum to Indian entrepreneurial eco-system.

During the S&CD, Pritzker and Sitharaman reviewed the progress made since the last meet under the four work streams relating to infrastructure collaboration and smart cities, ease of doing business, innovation and entrepreneurship and standards.

Both sides welcomed the addition of travel and tourism as a new work stream for future collaboration. “We have decided to work together to see how US companies and investment bodies tap the opportunity of India’s infrastructure projects through mechanisms like the National Infrastructure and Investment Fund,” she said.

Both sides will also facilitate collaboration in research in health sector, specifically focusing on non-communicable
diseases like cardiovascular ailments, diabetics and cancer, she added.

India and the US also discussed the National Physical Lab (NPL)and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) collaboration which would look at both developments of reference material production and collaboration on physical, mechanical, electronic standards.

“A technical delegation on standards to US is also proposed which will engage with NIST on reference material
production, conformity assessment and standards,” Sitharaman said.

On travel and tourism, she said both sides recognise the huge potential for engagement in advancing bilateral trade in this area and it was agreed to observe 2017 as the ‘Travel and Tourism Partnership Year’.

Given the increased tourist movement between both the countries, the cooperation in the areas of best practices in
tourism administration and marketing, public-private partnerships, diversification of travel and tourism expertise,
niche markets, and promotional activities are likely to benefit both the countries, she said.

In the India-US CEO Forum meeting, co-chaired by Dave Cote from the US side and Cyrus Mistry from India, members articulated their major concerns and recommended steps to boost economic ties between the countries.

On the mega trade deal TPP, Sitharaman said: “At this stage there is nothing that we can comment. We certainly will
wait to see how after the (US) elections, the TPP is progressing.”

As regard the India-EU FTA, she said: “We have asked for dates. For India, it is the time to wait and watch, although
we are eager to continue the talks.”

Further Pritzker said that the co-chairs injected recommendations and prospectives of the country’s private
sector into the bilateral commercial relationship. She appreciated reform measures like GST, bankruptcy code
and FDI norm relaxation in key sectors.

India and US are now doing trade and investments than ever, Pritzker said, adding “our challenge has been to build
on that progress. I think in bigger, acting bolder and dlivering real results. And I think we met that challenge in
today’s S&CD”.

Over the next year, both the sides will partner to implement the new recommendations of the forum, including
facilitating financing for infrastructure and energy projects, she said.

India and US will soon sign a partnership agreement to launch the global procurement initiative in India.
About the potential in tourism sector, she said, in 2015 the US welcomed 1.1 million visitors from India, up from
nearly 6 lakh in 2008.

Last year India welcomed 1.2 million visitors from the US and “it is quite obvious that that opportunities for growth are tremendous”, Pritzker said.

She added: “However, we have much more to do to reach the incredible potential that exist in our commercial

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in a statement said that yesterday Pritzker and White House National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients participated in a discussion with NITI Aayog to discuss the current state of innovation and entrepreneurship in India, with a focus on how the US and India can work together to strengthen ties in this area.

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The roundtable provided a forum to exchange ideas between the US and India on how to deliver tangible results from India hosting of the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).

“In both the US and India, we know that a culture and laws that support innovation is critical to economic growth and job creation. The 2017 GES will be a significant opportunity to highlight how our governments can serve as a partner to entrepreneurs by promoting and enacting policies and programs that help our innovators thrive,” it said quoting Pritzker .

This type of effort will create opportunities for India’s most successful entrepreneurs to mentor and inspire a younger generation, leading to more creativity, innovation, job creation, it added.

Zients said that supporting entrepreneurship and innovation is vital to both the economies and it’s an area
where policy makers in both the countries are making changes to support creativity and job creation.