Govt is 'closely engaged' with US on H-1B visa programme: VK Singh

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The government on Wednesday said it was "closely engaged" with the US on all issues relating to the movement of Indian professionals, including under the H-1B visa programme, and had emphasised to that country that this was a mutually-beneficial partnership which should be nurtured.

Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh, in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, said Indian skilled professionals had contributed to the growth and development of the US economy and helped the US retain its competitive edge and innovation advantage.

Asked whether there had been any major change in the H1-B visa policy by the US and whether the government was keeping a close eye on the issue, Singh said, "Government of India has closely engaged with the US Administration and the Congress on all issues relating to movement of Indian professionals, including under the H-1B visa programme.

"In our engagements, we have emphasised that this has been a mutually-beneficial partnership which should be nurtured."

He said that in the US Congress, seven bills relating to the H-1B visa programme had been introduced by individual Congressmen and senators, but none of these bills had been passed.

He said that on the executive side, on April 18, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order titled 'Buy American and Hire American', which required different arms of the US administration to suggest reforms to the H-1B visa programme.

"This process is still underway. The US administration has also taken some steps towards stricter enforcement and prevention of abuse of the work visa programmes," he said. 

Responding to another question on whether the government was aware that there were a large number of Indian green card applicants and whether the US government was putting restrictions on issuing of green cards to foreign nationals, Singh said green cards given to Indians nationals in FY 2016 was 64,687.

According to the information released by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as of May 2018, there are a total of 306,601 pending green card applications filed by Indian nationals under the employment-based preference category, Singh said.

Information on green card applicants for other categories, including dependent family members of the primary beneficiaries of employment-based preference Category, was not available in public domain, he said.

Singh also asserted that no comprehensive changes had been made by the US administration recently to the framework for the issuance of green cards to foreign nationals.

To another question, Singh said the number of Indians who were stranded in foreign countries and had been rescued and brought back during April 2014 to December 2017 by the Indian government from countries affected by war, internal strife and natural disasters, was 1,01,336.

Responding to a separate question on whether a ship with 22 Indian crew members had gone missing from Benin coast in West Africa, Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar said merchant vessel M.T. Marine Express was released on February 6 after relentless pursuit of the matter by the Indian High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria, in collaboration with the navies of Nigeria, Benin and Ghana.

The ship was released with all 22 Indian crew members safe and sound without any ransom paid, he said.

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