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Pompeo to assure India on H1-B visas for tech workers

June 21, 2019

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This file photo shows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arriving at Stansted Airport near London on June 3. — Reuters
This file photo shows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arriving at Stansted Airport near London on June 3. — Reuters

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will assure India on a visit next week that Washington is not planning to slash visas commonly used by Indian technology workers, an official said on Friday.

US has backed internet behemoths and major corporations in opposing India's orders that all online data be stored within the country, a move to ensure that authorities in New Delhi have access to it.

A US official denied reports that Washington was linking the issue to H-1B visas for professionals, for which the vast majority of recipients are Indian.

“We attach great importance to the US-India relationship,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. “Indians have contributed under the H-1B programme to the US economy and I think the secretary 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 having foreign companies store data locally,” she said.

The official acknowledged that US President Donald Trump's administration was undertaking a review of the H-1B programme but said it was "not targeted at India".

"It's completely separate from our ongoing discussion with India on the importance of ensuring better trade," she said.

The US each year grants 85,000 H-1B visas, which are valid for three years to professionals sponsored by employees.

Trump ran for the White House vowing to crack down on immigration, including by building a wall on the Mexican border, denying entry to all Muslims and restricting H-1Bs which he said disadvantaged American workers.

But Trump has appeared to moderate his views on the H-1Bs, saying earlier this year that he wanted to find a way for the top-skilled workers to stay in the US and become citizens.

Pompeo will be seeking to build defence relations with India during his visit starting on Tuesday, which will include a speech in New Delhi on the future of the relationship between the world's two largest democracies.

The trip comes after the convincing re-election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist who has supported stronger ties with Washington.