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Sky Is The Limit For India-US Relationship: Nikki Haley

WASHINGTON, Jan 31: Noting that President Donald Trump is very fond of his country's growing relationship with India, a top American diplomat has said that "sky is the limit" for this bilateral relationship.

Praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being aggressive in pursuing economic and administrative reforms, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told a select gathering high-achiever Indian-Americans that the Trump administration has also undertaken a similar operation.

It makes sense for the two democracies, having so much in common values to work together, Ambassador Haley said in her remarks during her luncheon meeting hosted by the Indian Ambassador to the US, Navtej Singh Sarna, at his residence on Tuesday.

The luncheon, organised at a very short notice, was attended by some of the top Indian-Americans from across the country.

"It is always a delight to see the sense of pride that Ambassador Haley has in her Indian roots, and the high value she attaches to the India-US relationship even as she plays such a prominent role in the American political sphere," said Ambassador Sarna a day after.

Ambassador Haley said when she entered the Trump administration, she desperately wanted to see the US-India relations to be very strong "which wasn't the case during the last two presidencies".

"It didn't make sense to me because when you look at the values, they're the same. When you look at the work ethic and what they believe from a corporate standpoint -- the same. When you look at the research and all the things that we do, these two democracies have so much in common," she said.

It makes sense for the two countries to be friends, the top Indian-American in the Trump administration said.

"We're seeing a growing interest, and a growing relationship and seeing that happen. The president is very, very fond of what is happening with India, growing that relationship trying to make sure that we do more with India," Ambassador Haley said.

"I think that sky's the limit now. We are going to continue to try and show the values of India to the United States and continue trying to show the values of the US to India," she said.

Ambassador Haley said Prime Minister Modi was aggressively pursuing reforms and changes in India.

"He very much wants to streamline and do all of these reforms that are very true for this (Trump) administration too. So I think it's a good combination to have them (Trump- Modi) together," said Ambassador Haley.

Later in the evening, Ambassador Haley attended the maiden State of the Union address by President Trump at the US Capitol.

Ambassador Haley is the first ever cabinet ranking Indian-American in any presidential administration.

In his remarks, Ambassador Sarna described Ambassador Haley as a star of the Trump administration.

Ambassador Sarna said Ambassador Haley's story really showed that "can't is not an option".

"Coming from a coming from a family of immigrants, coming from a relatively small rural town and moving so quickly to hold the post of Governor was in itself a huge achievement," said Ambassador Sarna.

"From there to here when over the last one year we have seen you become, if I may say so, the star of this administration," he said.

Trump talks tough on trade and terror

WASHINGTON, Jan 31: US President Donald Trump, in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, offered a four-pillar immigration deal, talked tough on trade and terrorism, and called for unity in the nation.

The address is an annual message presented by the president to a joint session of Congress on the state of the nation and his intent for the year ahead.

Clocking in at nearly 80 minutes, Trump’s major pitch was on immigration, with a call for support from both Republicans and Democrats. He formally put before the Congress a four-pillar plan his administration had unveiled earlier — a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, boosting border security with the wall along the Mexico border, ending a visa lottery to encourage diversity, and ending family-based chain migration.

“It is time to begin moving towards a merit-based immigration system — one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country,” Trump said.

He reiterated his tough position on trade — calling for it to be “fair” and “reciprocal” — and terrorism, in which he redeployed Guantanamo Bay for terrorists apprehended abroad, reversing the Obama administration’s decision to close it.

He also called for unity, stressing the need for a nation tested by tensions over the past year to come together “as one team, one people, and one American family”.

India would be paying close attention to the first three issues — immigration, trade and terrorism — read along with his remarks reiterating his new strategy in Afghanistan.

Though details of his immigration plans will be hammered out during negotiations, implications for India are unclear except for the fate of its nationals brought here illegally as children — generically called Dreamers. More opportunities could arise for Indian professionals anecdotally, but analysts are projecting a shrinkage that may well follow as well in the number of green cards issued to Indians.

India, which has felt for a while it has been in the crosshairs of the Trump administration on account of a combined trade surplus in goods and services of an estimated $30 billion, will have heard loudly his tough talk calling for it to be “fair” and “reciprocal”.

However, New Delhi will feel reassured by his unflagging commitment to both act and talk tough on terror. “We must be clear: Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants,” Trump said.

He also reiterated the shift in US policy on Afghanistan that he first laid out in his South Asia Strategy in August. The US has “new rules of engagement”, he said, and it will not be “undermined by artificial timelines”. That will be good news for India, which has been worried about the US leaving behind a chaotic Afghanistan vulnerable to meddling by Pakistan.

A fact sheet issued by the White House to draw out nuances in Trump’s speech said the suspension of nearly $2 billion in security aid to Pakistan was held up as a “long overdue message to aid recipients that we expect them to fully join us in combating terrorism”.

Though Trump did not mention South Asia or Pakistan, the fact sheet spoke of how his conditions-based South Asia Strategy provides “commanders with the authority and resources needed to deny terrorists the safe haven they seek in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

Nikki Haley slams rumours about affair with Trump

WASHINGTON, Jan 27: Indian American Nikki Haley, the top US diplomat to the UN, has described rumours about her having an affair with President Donald Trump as "highly offensive" and "disgusting".

"It is absolutely not true," she said on Friday.

Haley - the first ever Indian-American Cabinet-ranking official in any presidential administration - strongly quelled rumours in this regard as "highly offensive and disgusting," in the interview with 'Politico'.

"I have literally been on Air Force One once and there were several people in the room when I was there," Haley said.

"He says that I've been talking a lot with the president in the Oval about my political future. I've never talked once to the president about my future and I am never alone with him," she said referring to allegations against her in a recent book 'Fire and Fury' by New York-based author Michael Wolff.

"So, the idea that these things come out, that's a problem," she said expressing her frustration on such rumours.

"But it goes to a bigger issue that we need to always be conscious of: At every point in my life, I've noticed that if you speak your mind and you're strong about it and you say what you believe, there is a small percentage of people that resent that and the way they deal with it is to try and throw arrows, lies or not," Haley, 46, said during her interview.

In politics for over a decade now, the former South Carolina governor said she has faced similar allegations earlier too.

"I saw this as a legislator. I saw this when I was governor. I see it now. I see them do it to other women. And the thing is, when women work, they prioritise, they focus, and they believe if you're gonna do something, do it right," Haley said.

"Others see that as either too ambitious or stepping out of line. And the truth is, we need to continue to do our job and if that means they consider it stepping out of line, fine. And if that means they're gonna throw stones, people see lies for what it is. Do I like it? No. Is it right? No. Is it gonna slow me down? Not at all. Every time this has happened, it only makes me fight harder.

"And I do it for the sake of other women that are behind me because they should never think that they have to put their head down and cower out of fear that somebody's gonna do something to you," Haley said.

During the interview, she also said she is greatly influenced by former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, with whom she lunches every month.

"And what Dr Kissinger has taught me is, get into the shoes of the other person: Think like the Russians, see what the motivations of the Russians are, then decide how you're gonna act.

"Think like the Chinese, what are the Chinese worried about? Why would they be making that decision? And when you start to make decisions based on what they're thinking, then you all of a sudden have a conversation that they can relate to," she said.

Trump warns Davos on unfair trade, says U.S. "open for business"

DAVOS, Jan 31: U.S. President Donald Trump took his "America First" message to the world's elite on Friday, telling a summit of business and political leaders that the United States would "no longer turn a blind eye" to what he described as unfair trade practices.

Trump became the first sitting U.S. President to address the annual conclave of the rich and powerful at the Swiss ski resort of Davos for 18 years, closing the summit with a mostly upbeat speech that declared the United States "open for business".

"Now is the best time to bring your money, your jobs, your businesses to America," he said, singling out tax cuts and curbs to regulation as boosting the investment climate. "The world is witnessing the resurgence of a strong and prosperous America."

He said he would always promote "America First", as he expected other world leaders to do on behalf of their own countries, but added: "America First does not mean America alone. When the United States grows so does the world."

But he swiftly turned to a theme of demanding tougher enforcement of trade rules, accusing unidentified countries of unfair practices, including stealing intellectual property and providing state aid to industry.

"We will enforce our trade laws and restore integrity to the trading system. Only by insisting on fair and reciprocal trade can we create a system that works not just for the United States but for all nations," Trump said.

"The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair trade practices," he said. "We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others."

His speech was mostly met by polite applause, although he drew some jeers and whistles during a question and answer session, when he attacked the news media: "It wasn't until I became a politician that I realised how nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the press can be," he said.

While he has a record of opposing trade agreements involving multiple countries, he said the United States would seek bilateral deals with individual states. That could include members of a Trans-Pacific trade agreement from which he has withdrawn, he said, adding he would consider negotiating with them collectively if it was in the U.S. interest.

Before his trip to Davos, Trump imposed 30 percent tariffs on imported solar panels, among the first unilateral trade restrictions made by the administration as part of a broader protectionist agenda.

The Trump administration's debut at Davos also caused a storm because of comments by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said earlier this week the United States benefited from a lower dollar, which would make its exports cheaper.

Those remarks sent the U.S. currency tumbling and drew sharp rebukes from the European Central Bank chief and other figures, who view countries talking down their own currencies as a violation of unwritten rules to keep trade balanced.

Mnuchin told CNBC television on Friday he was "absolutely not trying to talk down the dollar" and that his remarks had been taken out of context. "What I said was actually very even-handed and consistent with what I said before."

On Thursday, Trump said he ultimately wanted the dollar to be strong. U.S. officials said there was no disagreement between Trump and Mnuchin, and the Treasury Secretary had been making a factual observation about the impact of a lower dollar, not announcing a policy preference to drive it down.

Despite Trump's tough trade talk, those in the audience mostly noted the upbeat tone of his speech.

"I think he came here to make not just American but global business comfortable about where America is now," said IHS Markit's chief economist, Nariman Behravesh. "He wasn't trying to convert people to his own views, but saying we are a great economy, come and invest in the U.S."

Andrei Guryev, chief executive of Russian fertiliser giant Phosagro, said Trump had spoken "how big business people should be speaking be speaking at important road shows of their own companies".

That did not please everyone. Winnie Byanyima, director of Oxfam International, said: "Trump's boastful sales pitch was a victory lap for the trillions of tax cuts that the wealthy elites and corporations have clamoured for."

Still, the reception was more polite than might have been expected, given the open anxiety with which the prospect of a Trump presidency was met at Davos a year ago.

Trump's questioning of trade, withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty and nationalist rhetoric sit uneasily at the quintessentially globalist event. Throughout the week, European leaders spoke with worry about the rise of populism.

Without mentioning Trump by name, German Chancellor Angela Merkel evoked the build-up to the two world wars.

Trump hosted a dinner with business leaders on Thursday night. Two European executives told Reuters they stayed away because they did not want to shake his hand. One said he consulted his wife and children before deciding not to go.

New York Fire, Which Killed 12, Sparked By Boy Playing With Stove

NEW YORK, Dec 29: A three-year-old boy playing with stove burners accidentally ignited the fire that ripped through a New York apartment building, killing 12 people including four children, the city's fire department chief said Friday.

The blaze broke out Thursday evening in a 25-apartment building near the Bronx Zoo, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the US financial capital.

Four people remain in critical condition following the inferno, which Mayor Bill de Blasio called the "worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter century."

"We found that this fire started in a kitchen on the first floor," fire commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters.

"It started from a young boy, three and a half years old, playing with the burners on the stove. The fire got started, the mother was not aware of it -- she was alerted by the young man screaming."

The boy's mother fled with her two children, leaving the door to the apartment open -- allowing the flames to shoot up the stairway and quickly spread in the building, as desperate residents fled to fire escapes, seeking rescue.

"The stairway acted like a chimney," Nigro said. "It took the fire so quickly upstairs that people had very little time to react."

Firefighters were on the scene in just over three minutes, but for some, it was already too late. Five people died at the scene, and seven others were pronounced dead at local hospitals.

"It seems like a horrible, tragic accident," De Blasio said Friday.

'Horrible, tragic accident'

More than 160 firefighters rushed to the scene and worked for about three hours to control the inferno. In the bitter cold, water leaking from the hoses froze on the pavement.

Three girls -- aged one, two and seven -- and an unidentified boy were among the dead, police said. A 19-year-old woman was also killed.

Tearful residents said they heard cries of "fire, fire" in the building followed by a mad rush to exit the smoke-filled building.

Many fled into the frigid night with just the clothes on their backs.

The plaster and brick structure, built in 1916, had six open violations including for a defective smoke detector, The New York Times reported.

Nigro told reporters that investigators were still determining the condition of smoke detectors at the scene.

"Here in the Bronx, there are families that have been torn apart," De Blasio told reporters late Thursday.

'Died on various floors'

Two of the dead were discovered in a bathtub full of water, where they had apparently sheltered from the blaze, US media reported.

"This tragedy is, without question, historic in its magnitude," said Nigro.

"It's the time of year where people celebrate and certainly here, we have people who have lost their lives, lost their homes, lost everything, and we grieve with them."

It was the second deadly residential blaze in New York, a city of 8.5 million people, in less than two weeks. A mother and three children were killed when a fire tore through their Brooklyn home on December 18.

In March 2007, 10 people were killed in another fire in the Bronx, which at the time was the worst blaze in the city since 1990 apart from the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Thursday's fire was New York's deadliest since 87 people were killed in a 1990 inferno at a Bronx social club, The Times said.

Trump says US open to talks with North Korea: White House

WASHINGTON, Jan 10: US President Donald Trump told South Korea’s leader a day after the first intra-Korean talks in more than two years that the United States was open to talks with North Korea “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances,” the White House said.

South Korea said Trump, in a telephone call on Wednesday, had also told President Moon Jae-in there would be no military action while talks between North and South Korea were going on.

“Both heads of state forecast the current inter-Korean talks could naturally lead to talks between the United States and North Korea for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and agreed to negotiate closely on the progression of inter-Korean talks,” a statement from South Korea’s presidential Blue House said.

The White House said Trump had said the United States was open to talks with North Korea “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances.”

The South Korean statement also quoted Trump as saying that a report in the Wall Street Journal newspaper that he was contemplating a military strike against North Korea was “completely wrong.”

“He went on to say that there will be no military action as long as talks between the two Koreas are ongoing,” it said.

At Tuesday’s intra-Korea talks - the first since 2015 - Seoul and Pyongyang agreed resolve all problems between them through dialogue and to revive military consultations so that accidental conflict could be averted.

North Korea also said it would attend the Olympics.

However, Pyongyang said it would not discuss its nuclear weapons because they were aimed only at the United States and not its “brethren” in South Korea, or Russia or China, showing that a diplomatic breakthrough to the crisis remained far off.

Washington welcomed the talks as a first step toward solving the crisis over North Korea’s program to develop nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States, but reiterated that any talks involving the United States must be aimed at North Korea’s denuclearization.

Trump, who has swung between hurling insults and threats at North Korea to expressing a willingness to talk, said on Saturday he would be willing to speak to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, though not without pre-conditions.

An unsourced article in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday said US officials were debating whether it was possible to mount a limited military strike against North Korean sites without igniting an all-out war on the Korean peninsula.

The Trump administration has said it prefers a diplomatic solution but that all options are on the table, including military.

US officials say Trump has been considering a number of military options, including a preemptive strike on a missile or nuclear facility, but officials and analysts have warned of the risks of triggering a catastrophic wider conflict.

Moon credits Trump for talks

Earlier on Tuesday, Moon made a point of crediting Trump for the inter-Korean talks.

He also said he was open to meeting with Kim at any time if conditions were right and “certain achievements are guaranteed”.

“The purpose of it shouldn’t be talks for the sake of talks,” he said, while warning that Pyongyang would face stronger sanctions if “provocations” continued.

North Korea ramped up missile launches last year and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, resulting in a US-led campaign to impose some of the strongest international sanctions yet, which Pyongyang dubbed an “act of war”.

Trump and Kim have exchanged threats and insults over the past year, raising fears of war on the peninsula. South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

Washington and Seoul opened the way for the talks last week when they announced the postponement of joint military exercises that Pyongyang has denounced as a rehearsal for invasion.

Washington had raised concerns that Kim’s New Year overture to Seoul that led to the talks could drive a wedge between the allies, but Moon said his government and Washington did not differ over how to respond to North Korean threats.

“This initial round of talks is for the improvement of relations between North and South Korea. Our task ... is to draw North Korea to talks aimed at the denuclearization of the North,” Moon said. “(It’s) our basic stance that will never be given up.”

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said all problems would be resolved through efforts by the Korean people alone.

“If the North and South abandon external forces and cooperate together, we will be able to fully solve all problems to match our people’s needs and our joint prosperity,” it said.

In spite of the hopeful words about the potential for future talks, the US intelligence assessment of the North’s weapons programs has not altered, officials say.

US officials familiar with the classified analysis say the consensus is that Kim remains convinced that the United States is determined to overthrow him and that only a nuclear arsenal that threatens America can deter that.

One official said the North-South talks were likely to follow the pattern of past diplomatic efforts, in which the North has benefited from additional food and other aid without making concessions.

Lee Woo-young, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said it was wise of Moon to praise Trump.

“By doing that, he can help the US build logic for moving toward negotiations and turning around the state of affairs in the future, so when they were ready to talk to the North, they can say the North came out of isolation because the sanctions were effective.”

The United States and Canada are due to host a conference of about 20 foreign ministers next week in Vancouver to discuss North Korea, without the participation of China, Pyongyang’s sole major ally and biggest trade partner.

China would not attend and was resolutely opposed to it, its foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.

“It will only create divisions within the international community and harm joint efforts to appropriately resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue,” he said.

US issues new travel advisory, asks citizens not to travel to Kashmir

WASHINGTON, Jan 11: The US on Wednesday issued a new travel advisory for countries including India, which its officials said is “user friendly” as it is based on ready-to-understand level of advice ranging from one to four.

India has been ranked Level 2 (exercise increased caution) while Pakistan has been places in Level 3 (reconsider travel). Level 1 advises travellers to exercise normal precaution, while Level 4, which has countries like Afghanistan, recommends “Do Not Travel”.

Now every country has a travel advisory based on this system, which has replaced all the previous such advisories.

“These improvements will provide US citizens with clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide,” the State Department said.

Placing India on Level 2, the State Department identified “crime and terrorism” for Americans to exercise increased caution. However, it asks Americans not to travel to Jammu and Kashmir, except for eastern Ladakh and Leh and not to venture within 10 miles of the India-Pakistan border due to the “potential for armed conflict”.

The State Department explained that while it will issue an overall travel advisory level for every country, levels of advice may vary for specific locations or areas within a country.

“Indian authorities report rape is one of the fastest growing crimes in India. Violent crime, such as sexual assault, has occurred at tourist sites and in other locations,” the new India travel advisory said.

Terrorists or armed groups are active in east-central India, primarily in rural areas, it added.

“Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities,” it said.

Ranking Pakistan on Level 3, the State Department asked Americans to reconsider travel to this country due to terrorism.

It advises Americans not to travel to travel to Balochistan province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) due to terrorism.

Americans are also advised not to travel to Pak-Occupied Kashmir due to terrorism and the potential for armed conflict.

“Over the past six months, there have been at least 40 significant terrorist attacks across Pakistan, resulting in over 225 deaths and 475 wounded, most of which occurred in Balochistan, KPK, and the FATA. In the past, there have been large-scale terrorist attacks resulting in hundreds of casualties,” it said.

US puts Pakistan on special watch list for religious freedom violations

WASHINGTON, Jan 4: The US on Thursday put Pakistan on a “special watch list” for “severe violations” of religious freedom.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson also “re-designated” Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as “countries of particular concern” for their handling of religious freedom.

“The secretary also placed Pakistan on a special watch list for severe violations of religious freedom,” state department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.

These designations, she said, “are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries”.

Pakistan is already in the crosshairs of the Trump administration for not doing enough to combat terrorism.

“In far too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief,” Nauert said in a statement,

“Today, a number of governments infringe upon individuals’ ability to adopt, change, or renounce their religion or belief, worship in accordance with their religion or beliefs, or be free from coercion to practice a particular religion or belief.”

President Donald Trump himself accused Pakistan of accepted a large amount of aid from the US — $33 billion in 15 years — and giving back only lies and deceit in return.

The administration has announced it will deny Pakistan assistance worth $255 million under foreign military financing. It has also said it will release a list of “specific actions” for Pakistan to take to “earn” the aid. More aid cuts are expected.

In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the secretary of state annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as “countries of particular concern”.

In November, congressmen Randy Hultgren and James P McGovern, co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, had urged Tillerson to designate Pakistan as a country of particular concern as it has allegedly engaged in systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has advocated designating Pakistan as a country of particular concern since 2002.

My nuclear button is bigger, more powerful and it works: Trump to Kim Jong Un

WASHINGTON, Jan 3: President Donald Trump responded to Kim Jong Un’s threat about always having the nuclear button on his desk by warning the North Korean leader that the US nuclear button is “much bigger” and “more powerful”.

“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

During his New Year’s Day televised address, Kim had said, “The entire mainland of the US is within the range of our nuclear weapons and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office. They should accurately be aware that this is not a threat but a reality.”

Trump’s tweet marked the latest round in an exchange of insults and taunts by the two leaders against the backdrop of rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.

However, Kim had also referred to a peaceful resolution with South Korea in his address, marking a break from the aggressive rhetoric from North Korea.

Trump had referred to Kim’s effort to break the ice with South Korea in another tweet on Tuesday and said the gesture by the North Korean leader is “perhaps” good news or “perhaps not”.

During a White House news briefing, spokesperson Sarah Sanders said the US continues to see North Korea as a global threat and seeks a solution to the tensions while keeping “all of our options on the table”.

Trump has repeatedly taunted and insulted the North Korean leader on Twitter. He has called Kim “Little Rocket Man”. The North Korean government had responded to this by calling Trump a “dotard”.

Trump had responded to this insult by tweeting that he would never call Kim “short and fat”.

Trump administration considers proposal that may send back more than 500,000 Indian tech workers

WASHINGTON, Jan 3: India may be looking at upwards of 500,000 of its "skilled" work force returning home from America if a proposal by the Trump administration+ not to extend H-1B visa of those waiting for permanent residency (Green Card) is implemented.

The Department of Homeland Security is said to be considering new regulations that would prevent H-1B visa extensions as part of President Donald Trump's "Buy American, Hire American" initiative promised during the 2016 campaign.

Under current law, foreign guest workers are allowed one three-year extension of the H-1B visa of three-year validity. If at the end of those six years the guest worker has a pending Green Card (Permanent Residency) application, then there is an almost indefinite extension of the H-1B visa till such time the applicant's Green Card processing is completed.

Because there is such a huge backlog of Green Card applicants, particularly for countries such as India and China, hundreds of thousands of workers from these countries spend 10-12 years in what is mirthlessly called H-1B hell or limbo. The small 'comfort' they currently have is they can remain in the US while the Green Card is being processed.

The Trump administration is considering ending that concession. If an H-1B visa holder has applied for a Green Card at the end of his six-years then he or she will have to exit the United States till the processing is complete.

Technically, the Trump administration is correct and well within the law to amend the rules because the H-1B was meant to address skilled worker shortage in the US, and not intended to become a route for immigration.

But over the years, hundreds of thousands of skilled foreign workers, particularly Indians and Chinese have used the H-1B route to first become permanent residents (Green Card holders) and then become citizens.

They include some of the most storied names in the US tech industry, including Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai, India-born head honchos of Microsoft and Google respectively, and because they added such immense value to the US tech industry, the whole visa category has generally been looked at favorable by both the tech industry and previous administrations.

However, in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential elections, nativist American tech workers who felt short-changed by the influx of foreign workers managed to convince the Trump campaign that there is no shortage of American tech workers and the H-1B inflow was part of the US tech industry's tactics to keep wages low.

Although, successive administrations have fiddled with the rules to make it difficult for US companies to hire foreign workers, including hiking processing fees and minimum salaries, demand for H-1B remains unabated because the US industry says America does not produce enough STEM graduates with requisite skill sets.

Changes to the current H-1B rules will affect India more than any other country. More than 50 per cent of the 85,000 H-1B visas that are currently being issued annually goes to Indian workers, which means there are an estimated 255,000 Indians with H-1B visas in the last six years alone. Tens of thousands more H-1B visa holders going back more than a decade are already awaiting Green Card processing.

Of course, it is not necessary that all H-1B visa recipients are immigration aspirants or are having their Green Cards processed. Many simply go there for short term work or return after their stint.

This is not the first blow dealt by the Trump administration to foreign worker inflow as part of its effort to keep US jobs for Americans. IT has already announced that it plans to roll back the H-4 EAD introduced during the Obama presidency that allowed spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the US subject to certain conditions.

It is also possible that the visa extension roll back is never implemented. It is currently at a proposal stage and there are powerful arguments against implementing it.

Chief among them is that the young, foreign-born skilled workforce pays into the US tax system and enhances the country's economy. Many tech savants have warned that if the US keeps them out, then it will accrue to the benefit of their home countries; they will simply go back and start Facebooks and Ubers, something US tech mavens have warned is already happening in China.




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