NEW DELHI: The government today expressed concern 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 plus 2 dialogue" to be held here 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 US authorities at various bilateral meetings and fora and also raised it with several US 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 US visa regime could lead to reduction in the number of H1-B visas and the rules may be made more stricter.
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 plus 2 dialogue' which is to be held in Delhi on September 6, in which the External Affairs and Defence 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 US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as well as US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, while the Finance Minister had raised the matter with US Finance Secretary.
"The Government has decided to continue our engagement with the US 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 programme 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 1.08 lakh in 2014 to 1.29 lakh visas now.
Citing official figures, she said while in 2014, a total number of 1,08,817 H-1B visas were issued, a total of 1,19,992 such visas were issued the next year.
"In our engagements, we have emphasised to the US side that the mopvement of Indian skilled professionals to the US has been a mutually-beneficial partnership which should be nurtured.
"They have contributed to the growth and development of the US economy and have helped the US 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 US Administration has taken some steps towards stricter enforcement of the world visa programmes," 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 US 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.