US H1B visa: Here is why it is OK for PM Narendra Modi to push Donald Trump hard on issue
India’s etail-push, Digital India etc will cut bn deficit in a big way, so OK for India to push on H-1B-like issues. (Image: Reuters)
It was never clear why prime minister Modi needed to tell US Inc that India has made 7,000 reforms in the last three years since even his detractors will agree there has been a surge in FDI since he assumed office, from $24.3 bn in FY14 to $43.5 bn in FY17. Not surprisingly, US investment into India has not been higher in the last decade—from $0.8 bn in FY14 to $2.4 bn in FY17, and that doesn’t represent the full picture since a lot of US investment may be coming in via Mauritius and Singapore. Also, while most focus on Amazon when it comes to the large investment opportunities in India’s e-tail market, even firms like Flipkart have sizeable US investment. If there was a reason why US businessmen were gushing after their meeting with Modi, it was because of the huge opportunities for investment/sales India offers for US firms ranging from Apple to Tesla and from GE to Westinghouse with the Googles and Ciscos in between, with not just its faster growth, but greater emphasis on smart cities, solar power, railway & defence modernisation and Digital India, among others. The rapid resolution of transfer pricing-tax cases involving US firms, a big bottleneck till just a few years ago, has also been impressive.
Apart from looking for more concessions to expand its assembly operations in India and setting up exclusive stores, Apple has plans for a 4,000-member centre working on maps in Hyderabad, and Tim Cook told Modi it had generated 740,000 jobs in India with Indian developers creating nearly 100,000 apps. With India buying more Android phones than the US and also with more internet users, Google’s Sundar Pichai—also there at the Modi meeting—had earlier announced that, by 2019, Google’s Hyderabad centre will have 13,000 employees; at around 150,000, IBM’s work force in India is larger than that in the US, JPMorgan has 30,000 India employees … by 2020, Zinnov Consulting projects 1,139 MNCs, not all American, with Indian R&D centres and over half a million staffers.
If SpiceJet’s $20 bn order, which will create 130,000 US jobs, was enough to figure in Donald Trump’s speech, as did India’s $30 bn negotiations on buying US shale gas (‘trying to get the price up a little bit’, Trump said), India has a lot more to offer the president who swears by ‘US First’, including by way of defence deals under Make-in-India—the US has already signed $19 bn worth of defence deals since 2008 including the Guardian drone sales just announced; that’s a lot, but small compared to the annual trade surplus of $20 bn that India enjoys. Indian tourists spent $13 bn in the US in 2016 and its students $5 bn.
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While the US naming Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist has little more than symbolic value, the joint operations between the two countries are a sign of the relationship remaining strong even under a new president. Not much headway seems to have been made on issues of current interest to India like H-1B or ‘totalisation’, or on getting Trump to reconsider Paris, but with a good first summit and India having so much to offer as the US government fact-sheet makes clear, this is something Modi should be better placed to push at a later date — but keep in mind more liberal tech/defence exports from the US and the fact that the US has a legitimate grouse if India’s BoP surplus is so large.