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Passport, Visa Processes Being Eased for Diaspora Indians

Modi called this year's PBD the "most successful" event saying the people of Varanasi, his Lok Sabha constituency, have taken ownership of the three-day jamboree

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Representational image. Wikimedia Commons

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday told overseas Indians that his government is making efforts to ease the processes concerning their social security, passport, visa and PIO and OCI cards and that work is on to issue chip-based e-passports.

Inaugurating this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), the Indian diaspora conclave, he said that the government’s endeavour was that overseas Indians should stay “happy and safe wherever they are”.

“The government is trying to ease the entire processes concerning your social security, passport, visa, Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Cards. We have taken a new step a few months back concerning overseas Indians. Our embassies and consulates are being connected to the Passport Seva Project worldwide,” he said.

This, he said, will prepare a centralized system connected to the passport service for all of them. “Going one step ahead, work is on for issuing of the chip-based e-passport.”

The Prime Minister said that along with passport, the rules related to visa were being simplified.

“With the convenience of e-visa, you are also saving time and problems are also getting reduced.

“Many of you will also be familiar with the fact that our government has made the process of converting PIO (Person of Indian Origin) cards into OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) cards.”

Modi also urged Indians or people of Indian living abroad to contribute to the building of a new India and said that the changes that were coming in India were becoming new opportunities.

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi (Wikimedia Commons)

“In this changing India, you can a big role in research and development and innovation.

“The government is also trying to bring Indian start-ups and NRI mentors together on one platform. Defence manufacturing can also be an important sector for you.”

Modi urged Indians living abroad to motivate at least five families around them to come to India. “Your efforts will play an important role in enhancing tourism in the country.”

He said that in the last four years, India had taken a major step towards achieving its natural position in the world.

“People used to say that India cannot change,” he said. “We have changed this thinking. We have made changes.”

Stating that today India led the world in many fields, he said the International Solar Alliance was one such example.

“It is also part of our goal of preparing solutions to India’s problems, that can also solve the problems of other countries. We are working with the application of local solution, global application.”

Modi added: “In the last four-and-a-half years, more than two lakh Indians stranded in crisis situations abroad have been helped by the government and its efforts.”

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Passport (Representational image).

Ahead of this year’s general elections, Modi also launched an attack on the Congress over the issue of corruption citing a quote by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

“He said that only 15 percent of the money that the central government sends from Delhi reach the people.”

Modi said no attempt was made by the Congress to stop this loot. “The country’s middle class continued to pay taxes honestly, and 85 per cent of this loot continued.”

But his government was using technology to eliminate this loot.

Modi’s Mauritius counterpart Pravind Jugnauth, the chief guest at the event, commended India’s efforts in reaching out to the diaspora.

Earlier, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj welcomed the gathering.

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Organised by the External Affairs Ministry and the Uttar Pradesh government, the Indian diaspora conclave this year has over 5,000 delegates registered.

This year’s theme of the convention is “Role of Indian diaspora in building a new India”.

Modi called this year’s PBD the “most successful” event saying the people of Varanasi, his Lok Sabha constituency, have taken ownership of the three-day jamboree. (IANS)

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Reform of US Skilled-Worker Visa Program Receives Appreciation

U.S. employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a U.S. master's or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery.

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The Department of Homeland Security logo is seen at one of its annex facilities in Fairfax, Virginia, July 22, 2015. VOA

The Trump administration’s new rules for a U.S. visa program widely used for technology workers are getting cautious praise from Silicon Valley amid surging demand for high-skill employees.

The H-1B visa program, which admits 85,000 foreign nationals each year, will give higher priority to people with postgraduate degrees from U.S. universities, under a final rule the Department of Homeland Security published in January.

“U.S. employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a U.S. master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery” under the new rule, said Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in announcing the change Jan. 30.

The changes come with the tech industry’s plea for more immigrants to fill key skilled positions, and respond in part to concerns that the program has been exploited by some tech giants and outsourcing firms to depress wages and displace U.S. employees.

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U.S. employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a U.S. master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery. Pixabay

“The changes are, on the whole, a positive step,” said Todd Schulte of the immigration reform group FWD.us backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and others in the industry.

Flaws in administration

Ed Black of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represents several major tech firms, said the program has not always been administered as well as it could have been.

“We are hopeful something in the newly announced revisions will improve efficiency, but it’s too soon to say what the impact will be,” Black said.

The H-1B program, in place since 1990, has been used for a variety of skilled occupations including nurses and pastry chefs, but in recent years two-thirds have been for computer-related jobs and three-fourths of the employees have come from India. Because visa holders can stay up to six years, the number currently living in the United States is estimated at more than half a million.

Ron Hira, a Howard University political scientist who has followed the visa program for two decades, said it has been exploited by some large tech companies and outsourcing firms to keep wages down and in some cases displace American employees.

Hira said the visas have not been allocated to the “most pressing needs” of the labor market and that “the typical H-1B employee is working in a back office through an outsourcer.”

He said that the reform “inches us a little closer to a better-quality pool, but it’s still not selecting the ‘best and brightest’ — you could reform it much better.”

Hira said the system has been disappointing up to now because of large outsourcing firms that flood the system with thousands of applications, and some Silicon valley firms that use it to keep wages down.

A U.S. Labor Department complaint alleged that Oracle discriminated against some Americans by bringing in large numbers of H-1B visa holders, who were paid less than U.S. nationals.

The new DHS rule reverses the order of two lotteries for H-1B visas, by selecting the first 65,000 from the pool of all applications, and subsequently choosing 20,000 with advanced degrees.

Officials expect this will mean an increase of 5,000, or 16 percent, for holders of advanced degrees.

Hira said this potentially changes the mix of visa holders to positions with higher pay and skill levels.

Detail of an H-1B visa
Details of the H-1B visa. VOA

‘Modest’ but positive shift seen

William Kerr, a Harvard University professor who heads the university’s Future of Work initiative, agreed the changes could slightly shift the mix of those receiving H-1B visas to bring in more people with advanced skills.

“It’s a modest change in a system in a need of substantial reworking, but I support the change,” he said.

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank focused on the sector, said the changes should be viewed in the context of Trump administration rhetoric about shutting out foreigners and hiring more Americans.

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“People were talking about shutting down this program and making it hard for companies to use [visa holders] at all, so it could have been a lot worse,” Atkinson said.

The reform is a “reasonable compromise,” Atkinson said.

The change, he said, “sends a nice message to foreigners who have been dropping their enrollment in U.S. universities and who were feeling uncertainty about what Trump was going to do.” (VOA)