US should avoid ‘non-tariff barriers’ on H-1B, L-1: Chidambaram

Finance minister objects to proposed new immigration law.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: While the state of the economies of the US and India, and strengthening ties between the two countries was a popular topic of conversation, the issue of immigration reform was a hot-button issue as well at the 38th annual Leadership Summit of the US India Business Council (USIBC) here, yesterday.

Many of the keynote speakers emphasized the importance of easing the immigration processes for technical workers and their families so that the US does not risk losing these workers to other countries, as Indian-born workers in the US are critical to strengthening economic, political, and social ties between the two nations.

The issue of immigration reforms came up also when India’s finance Minister P Chidambaram – who gave the keynote speech at the Summit – met some US House of Representative members on the sidelines of the USIBC meet. The Congressmen included Joe Crowley, Sandy Levin, Erik Paulsen, John Larson and Ami Bera.

Chidambaram made the argument that visa restrictions on workers on temporary H1B and L1 visas, as proposed in the Senate version of the immigration reform bill now in the House, would amount to ‘non-tariff barriers.’ He spoke about the issue in his keynote speech also.

“The temporary relocation of knowledge workers (which is not ‘immigration’ by any definition) has been linked to the larger issue of immigration. The restrictions sought to be placed on knowledge workers amount to non-tariff barriers,” he said.

Chidambaram also discussed among other issues, compulsory licensing, patent protection, preferential market access and increase in FDI in areas such as defense and financial services with the Congressmen, who in turn emphasized that the US was keen to further business ties with India.

The finance minister also explained at length that India took a serious viewpoint of the intellectual property rights and the process of granting compulsory license and patent registration are World Trade Organization compliant and subject to judicial review.

In his keynote address at the USIBC, Chidambaram sought investors for India’s infrastructure needs, and assured them of a smooth business experience, with good returns.

“We are a country where we are building our economy brick by brick, and in that process we seek your help,” Chidambaram said.

On the comprehensive immigration reforms imbroglio, he commented: “In no dictionary is immigration defined as including temporary relocation of knowledge workers. Yet the immigration bill has a clause that seems to erect non-tariff barriers on temporary relocation of knowledge workers. I have spoken to officials, Senators and Congressmen. They understated that.”

In his speech, India’s commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma said “now is the time” to build a strong US-India partnership that would have a defining impact in the 21st century.

“We have firm and undivided commitment in strengthening the partnership between India and the US,” Sharma said.

At the meet, USIBC also presented its 38th Anniversary Global Leadership Awards to Louis Chenevert of United Technologies, and to Analjit Singh of Max Healthcare.

“The award denotes industry-wide appreciation for the commitment companies are making to the advancement of US-India commercial ties,” USIBC president Ron Somers said.

The USIBC was founded in 1975 with the primary goal of advancing commercial ties between the US and India. Since then, it has grown into the largest bilateral trade association in the country, with offices in Washington, DC, New York, Silicon Valley, as well as New Delhi. Additionally, it is comprised of over 350 top-tier companies in the US and India.

Speakers at the Summit also included  Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, USIBC Chairman Ajay Banga, president and CEO of MasterCard, and Virginia senator Mark Warner.

Ahluwalia talked about the importance of increasing India’s economic growth rate, and how relations with the US are fundamental to ensuring that that goal is met.

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