Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told his Indian counterpart that technology pros and other workers from India will play an increasingly prominent role in U.S. industry.
"I think it's very likely that over time you see a significant expansion of the role played by Indians and Indian companies in the American economy," Geithner said during bilateral talks in Delhi with Indian finance minister P. Chidambaram.
"I think we're at the early stage, even acknowledging and recognizing the huge benefits to the American economy already of the scale of Indian investment and Indian talent in the United States," said Geithner. "I think there's likely to be much more of that ahead of us, and of course we welcome that over time," said the Treasury chief, according to a transcript of the talks provided to InformationWeek by the secretary's spokesperson.
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Geithner's comments were viewed in India as a sign that that the U.S. may eventually increase the number of visas available to tech professionals.
The U.S. caps the number of H-1B visas issued each year at 65,000, plus an additional 20,000 for holders of advanced degrees from American colleges or universities. Any move by the federal government to increase the cap would be contentious, given that the national unemployment rate is close to 8%.
An increase in the supply of H-1B and other work visas would also run counter to President Obama's pledge to protect American jobs, which has been a staple of his campaign against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The president has frequently criticized Romney for investing in companies that outsourced work to India and other countries while he was head of venture firm Bain Capital.
Geithner was in India earlier this week to discuss bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and world's most populous democracy on a number of fronts.
"Both countries recognize the great potential benefit from working together to meet the challenges of a shared future to generate jobs, sustain growth, and help ensure macroeconomic stability," said Geithner and Chidambaram, in a joint statement. "We discussed ways we can further lower barriers to trade and investment to facilitate stronger growth and job creation."
The finance ministers said the U.S. and India need to work together to promote growth. "We are committed to make these investments to enhance competitiveness of our economies and to prepare our people and industry to compete in today's globalized world that is ever changing the way products and services are delivered," said Geithner and Chidambaram.
The U.S. is seeking more access for American companies to India's growing domestic market, while India, among other things, wants to make it easier for its nationals to work in the U.S. tech sector. The value for India is that many such workers eventually return home with valuable technology and management skills.
India recently threatened to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization over what it claims is an arbitrary reduction in visa approval rates by the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and increased visa processing fees.
But Geithner implied that the U.S. is not blocking visa applicants from India. "We welcome the greater participation of Indian companies and Indian talent in our economy," he said.
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