Increase in H1B and L1 visa fee is unfortunate: Locke

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Gary Locke
Washington, Feb 3: Ahead of his crucial week-long India mission wherein he is looking forward to substantially increase US exports, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today said that the recent increase in certain categories of H-1B and L1 visa fee is unfortunate.

"It is unfortunate that (increase in categories of H-1B and L1 visa fee) was the vehicle that was chosen to finance some of the measures for enhanced border security. We need to work with the Congress to find ways in which we can raise the same amount of dollars," Locke said in a press round-table on the eve of his departure to India.

The first Cabinet ranking official to visit India after President Barack Obama's trip in November, Locke was responding to media questions about the concerns raised by India and Indian companies about the increase in certain categories of H-1B and L1 visa fee by the Congress to fund border protection measures along the US-Mexico border.

The bill was signed into Act by Obama last year.

During his week-long India trip, that would take him to New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, Locke would be addressing meetings of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM).

All three of the important Indian bodies have termed the increase in visa fee as discriminatory and said that this would affect Indo-US business ties as this would result in an additional financial burden on Indian companies.

"We didn't had that discussion with the Congress and I do not believe that the Administration has come up with the proposal. So it is not for me to comment on what the future might hold," Locke said when asked if the Administration is working with the Congress on removing this increase in categories of H-1B and L1 visa fee that has adversely impacted on the Indian companies mainly in the software field.

"The motivation behind the (increase in) fee was to raise funds to finance enhanced protections of our borders primarily between the US and Mexico. And that was the method that the Congress chose. So it had nothing to do with all these other issues," Locke said in response to a question.

When asked if this is an irritant in the trade relationship between India and the US Locke said, "Actually, we have to look at the overall picture. The United States is still one of the most open economies in the world and there is a lot of business and sectors in India that are operating in the US, even though some of those sectors are closed off for American participation in India, for instance the legal services and the like. But there is also growing Indian investment in the US as President Obama indicated during his India trip that the US welcomes direct investment."

Locke conceded that increase in visa has been raised by numerous Indian government officials.

"The ultimate objective of that legislation was to raise revenue to pay for our border protection problems. That was the vehicle by which, the Congress was able to latch on to.

But we are understanding of the concerns that the Indian government has raised about what it says," Locke said in response to a question.

PTI

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