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Commerce and Industry minister Anand Sharma said he had "a frank discussion" with U.S. Commerce secretary John Bryson during bilateral talks Monday in New Delhi. Sharma told reporters afterwards that his concerns were sparked by the fact that rejection rates for H-1B and L-1 applicants' visa applicants have increased 28%. Sharma did not cite a source for the number.
"There have been concerns over the high rate of rejections," said Sharma, according to the Times of India. "We had a very frank discussion, including some of the issues on which the U.S. has concerns."
Bryson is in the midst of an official, six-day swing through India. The United States is seeking greater access for American manufacturers to India's burgeoning industrial market. "It's clear that if American and Indian businesses work together, we can build India's infrastructure in a way that bring inclusive growth, greater prosperity, and job creation in both countries," said Bryson, in a statement.
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The visa issue is contentious. Immigration proponents say the United States needs to import foreign high-tech workers to fill what they claim is a shortage of American workers with key IT skills, particularly in growth areas like mobility and cloud computing. And both U.S. and Indian companies say it's getting more difficult to import tech workers to the United States. "The industry is facing such issues, including [Indian outsourcer] Wipro," said Wipro international operations CFO Sridhar Ramasubbu, in an e-mail.
A recent study by The Partnership for a New American Economy, which is backed by a number of tech and business giants, including Microsoft, Boeing, and News Corp., found that 18% of the companies on the 2010 Fortune 500 list were founded by immigrants. "The findings are clear, immigrants drive our economy," said the group.
But opponents say any easing of immigration rules would make it more difficult for unemployed tech workers to find jobs in an economy that has yet to fully recover from the recession. In particular, some argue that a possible move by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to broaden the definition of "specialized knowledge" that L-1B applicants must possess would negatively impact U.S. workers.
"Such an interpretation would make it easier for someone to qualify as possessing L-1B specialized knowledge, even if they have ordinary skills and work in a position for which there may be unemployed U.S. workers available," said Daniel Costa, a policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, and Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in a letter sent Monday to USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas.
A USCIS spokesman confirmed that the agency is hoping to issue new policy guidance on L-1B specialized knowledge by the end of the month. "USCIS has actively engaged with the public on the L-1B classification, including most recently at a forum at the end of January hosted by the Chamber of Commerce," the spokesman said.
"USCIS is currently reviewing its L-1B policy guidance, which is comprised of a series of memoranda dating back to 1994, to assess whether that guidance assists adjudicators in applying the law in new business settings that companies face today," the spokesman said.
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