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No plans to cap H-1B work visas for Indians: Senior US official

New York:  The US has no plans to place caps on H-1B work visas for Indians, a senior administration official told reporters on Friday.

In a background briefing ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to India next week, the official said that he (Pompeo) “will be able to assure the Indian leadership that we have no plans to place caps on H-1B work visas” for nations that are requiring local storage of data by American companies.

A review of H-1B visa programme is taking place, but “that is not targeted at India; it is completely separate”, the official said and acknowledged importance of the visa programme for US companies. “Indians have contributed under the H-1B programme to the US economy.”

Some media reports had said that the US was going to cap the H-1B visas issued to Indians at 15 per cent in retaliation for Indian regulations requiring some financial services companies like credit card issuers to store data within India. About 70 per cent of H-1B visas now go to Indians.

The official also said that Pompeo’s visit will seek to deepen the relations between the two countries, especially in strategic and trade areas, as both democracies shared a commitment to an open Indo-Pacific regions and shared concerns about the developments in the region.

Described External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar as “one of the visionaries behind the expansion of the India-US strategic partnership”, the official said Pompeo looked forward to meeting him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The official saw Modi’s re-election with a stronger mandate as helping deepen ties with the US, especially in trade and business as it would mesh with his vision of building a strong India.

“Modi’s mandate strengthened the way he can implement his vision for a strong India that plays an important role in world affairs and US wants to help achieve it by moving the relationship on an upward trajectory,” the official added.

Trade will be an important part of Pompeo’s interactions in New Delhi, according to the official. He will seek to “jump start a discussion on trade and move quickly to resolve long-standing irritants”, the official said, while acknowledging that they are not going to be resolved in one meeting but it will have to be a credible process.

The official also said that although bilateral trade has increased and US deficits have come down, India did not offer US companies a level playing field.

Welcoming India stopping purchase of crude oil from Iran in response to US sanctions, the official, however, said that any change in the US policy to permit resumption of purchase was unlikely.

At the same time, the official confirmed that India’s Chabahar port project will be exempt from US sanctions. India will be able to continue essential humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan as well as to provide Afghanistan with economic alernatives, the official said.

Regarding the S-400 Russian anti-missile system India is buying, the official said that it could run afoul of US sanctions against some military trade with Russia.

“We are encouraging India to look at alternatives,” the official said.

The US sought to enhance the quality of defence technology relations and was offering high technology available only to close allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia, the official added.