NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged the United States to have a “balanced and farsighted” perspective on visas that enable thousands of skilled Indian professionals to work in the United States and sustain India’s booming $150 billion software industry.
The Indian leader made his call for an open mind on work visas at a meeting with a 26-member bipartisan delegation of the U.S. Congress, which is on a weeklong visit to India.
There have been growing fears in New Delhi that the Trump administration will revamp the H1-B visa program to protect jobs for American workers. Indian technology workers are the largest recipients of these visas, which allow foreign professionals to work in the United States.
After meeting the U.S. delegation on Tuesday, Modi's office said in a statement that the prime minister wanted the two countries to work together on facilitating people-to-people linkages and “referred to the role of skilled Indian talent in enriching the American economy and society.”
Before meeting the prime minister, Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte declined to answer a question on visa restrictions, saying it was up to President Trump to reassess his policies on immigration.
Goodlatte also said the U.S. president had been a businessman, “And he likes to do deals and he also wants to do deals with India and other countries around the world.”
While New Delhi is optimistic that its growing partnership with the United States will continue under the Trump administration, there are concerns about how protectionism and restrictions on immigration will impact trade – particularly India’s software exports, two thirds of which go to the United States.
Indian technology companies have been thrown into uncertainty amid signals that there will be stricter curbs on H1-B visas to make immigration tougher. Three bills seeking to prioritize American workers have been introduced in the U.S. Congress -- one of them proposes to more than double the minimum salary for a foreign hire on an H1-B from $60,000 to $130,000.
That could hit Indian companies hard, whose business model is based on the lower cost of hiring Indian engineers both at home and in the United States compared to those in Western countries.
The industry body National Association for Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has delayed its growth forecast for the present year as it waits to gauge policy announcements in the United States. A NASSCOM delegation is in Washington to lobby the U.S. administration on the need to have a level playing field for Indian companies.
However, many analysts say Indian firms will have to face the reality that rules on hiring foreign professionals in the United States will get tougher.
“Indian firms will have to act like global firms and hire where ever there is a match in demand and availability of talent. It will be long term sustainable but will also increase their cost structure,” said Pareekh Jain who heads research operations in India at the research firm Horses for Sources.