India, US spar over working visas; matter with WTO

RSTV Bureau

obama-modiThe US has replied that its visa programme is fully consistent with WTO obligations. The US reply comes after India filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in connection with its decision to impose high fees on temporary working visas.

“The United States has received this request for WTO consultations from India, and we look forward to discussing our H-1B visa program with our Indian counterparts,” said Andrew Bates, spokesman for US Trade Representatives.

“We are confident that the United States’ visa program, which was recently updated on a bipartisan basis by Congress, is fully consistent with our WTO obligations,” Bates added.

The US move to hike temporary working visa fees will hit Indian IT professionals and will make Indian IT companies less competitive in that market.

“India notified the WTO Secretariat on March 3 that it has initiated a WTO dispute proceeding against the US regarding measures imposing increased fees on certain applicants for L-1 and H-1B categories of non-immigrant temporary working visas into the US, and measures relating to numerical commitments for H-1B visas,” the WTO said in a statement.

In its statement India claimed that US measure appeared to be “inconsistent” with the terms agreed to and specified by the US in its commitments under the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services).

India asked for consultations with the US under the aegis of the WTO to resolve the issue. And the request for consultations is the first step in a dispute at the dispute settlement system of the WTO.

Consultations give the parties an opportunity to discuss the matter and to find a satisfactory solution without proceeding further with litigation. If consultations fail to resolve the dispute, the complainant may request the Dispute Settlement Body to establish a panel of experts to study the dispute.

India has raised serious objections to US’ move to hike professional visa fees on several occasions in the past.

Last year, US President Barack Obama had signed into law a USD 1.8 trillion spending package which among other things introduces a hefty USD 4,000 fee for certain categories of H-1B visa and USD 4,500 for L1 visa.

Companies having more than 50 employees and having more than 50 per cent of their US employees on H-1B and L1 visas would have to pay the new fee when the next visa application session kicks off on April 1.

(With inputs from PTI)