U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk had been scheduled to travel to New Delhi later this week to meet with Indian counterparts, including Commerce minister Anand Sharma, to discuss a range of bilateral issues. Among them was India's claim that rejection rates for applications by Indian IT professionals to work in the U.S. on H-1B or L-1 visas are rising.
Those talks, formally known as the U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum, are now off indefinitely. Reports suggest the talks fell victim to American negotiators' belief that India would not yield on their number-one priority: Increased access for U.S. firms to India's roughly one billion consumers.
"While considerable progress on developing the agenda for the TPF has been made, in view of the amount of preparatory work that remains to be done, the United States and India have decided to postpone the TPF until later this year," the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in a statement. "The additional time will allow us to further develop the TPF agenda and related activities."
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Indian officials have of late been voicing concerns that it's becoming more difficult for skilled IT workers from their country to obtain work authorization in the U.S.
"Uptake of H-1B visas this year is less than half of the annual prescribed limit and the rejection rates have gone up," said Sharma at an economic forum in Washington, D.C., in October. The annual H-1B cap, which stands at 65,000 for overseas workers, has since been reached.
Experience with U.S. companies not only benefits individual Indian workers, it helps fuel the growth of India's domestic IT market as those returning home facilitate the transfer of key tech and business skills to indigenous firms. U.S. proponents of a more-open immigration system, including New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, have argued that the H-1B program also benefits the U.S. economy by adding to the pool of skilled workers.
Not everyone is in favor of looser immigration rules for tech workers. Groups that represent American IT workers, such as WashTec and Alliance At IBM, have noted that a number of tech companies, including Microsoft and IBM, have laid off thousands of U.S.-born employees in the past several years even as they have brought in H-1B workers from India, China, and other offshore locations.
Critics also point to a recent study by the General Accountability Office that found that 54% of H-1B visa recipients were entry-level-caliber workers, even though the program was originally designed for highly skilled professionals.
In addition to IT worker visas, a number of other tech-related issues were to have been on the talks' agenda, including intellectual property protection on the subcontinent. U.S. computer giants such as Microsoft have complained that Indian authorities turn a blind eye to the piracy of commercial software products such as Windows. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has in the past claimed that 70% of all software in India is pirated.
U.S. trade reps did not set a specific date for the resumption of talks with India.
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