Indians on H-1B visas are not illegal immigrants, Jaitley tells US

Finance minister Arun Jaitley and International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde attend IMFC plenary during the IMF/World Bank annual meetings in Washington, US, October 14.

Indians coming to America on H-1B temporary visas are highly quality professionals and not “illegal economic migrants” and their position must thus be considered “appropriately” in future policy decisions, finance minister Arun Jaitley has told US officials in his recent meetings with them.

India is concerned about the changes in non-immigrant visa regimes that the Trump administration has been considering . And Jaitley made this case with treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, whom he met on the sideline of the World Bank Group meetings.

“Indians are not some illegal economic migrants…about whom there are concerns in America,” Jaitley told reporters in an interaction on Saturday, winding down his week-long US visit. “These are very high quality, highly paid professionals. They have contributed immensely to the US economy, therefore they add value to the US economy.”

He added: “When the US decides its own visa policy, they must decide in relation to these people appropriately.”

The United States grants 85,000 non-immigrant, temporary work visas, called H-1Bs, to highly skilled foreigners every year hired by American companies, or those based here including Indian firms such as TCS, Infosys and others. Indian companies and Indians, hired by both Indian and American companies such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook, are major recipients of the visas.

President Donald Trump and key members of his administration including attorney general Jeff Sessions have said they believe the H-1B visa regime had led to the loss of American jobs to foreigners brought to the United States on lowers wages and benefits. Critics of the system have also alleged fraud.

President Trump has ordered a review of the system, under his overarching vision of “Buy American, Hire American”, to eliminate abuse and fraud and to ensure these jobs were not going to foreigners at the cost of Americans.

The president has also proposed a merit-based system for Green Cards, the permanent residency that comes with permission to work and a path to citizenship, by drastically trimming the family-based system currently in place, that could benefit Indians hoping to come to US in non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields covered by H-1B.

India has long argued with the US that H-1B is not an immigration issue; that it’s about free movement of trade and services and must be treated as such.

It has used the same logic to seek a better deal for L-1 visas that allowed US companies to bring foreigners from their overseas branches. Jaitley had raised this in his meetings with US officials as well.

The minister had made a “strong case” for these visa types, according to a statement from the finance ministry.