Morning briefing: Modi talks to Obama over H1B, L1 visa issue, fee doubled

GN Bureau | December 17, 2015



Prime minister Narendra Modi has spoken with US president Barack Obama about the concerns of Indian IT industry and professionals on the proposed legislation in the US Congress relating to popular H 1B and L1 visas.Meanwhile, the US Congress has raised the "outsourcing fee" imposed on highly qualified Indian IT professionals to $4,000 from $2,000 after it lapsed on September 30 this year.The fees will be increased "for applicants that employ 50 or more employees in the United States if more than 50 percent of the applicant's employees are nonimmigrants...," the Congress said on Wednesday in a spending bill.

The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialised fields.Modi conveyed the concern to Obama when the US President made a telephone call to him to thank for his leadership and India’s “critical role” ensuring the climate change summit in Paris.“The prime minister shared with president Obama the concerns of the Indian IT industry and professionals on the proposed legislation in the US Congress relating to H1B and L1 visas,” the PMO said.Indian IT companies in the US have to pay a special $2,000 fee again on the popular H1B and L1 visas to fund a 9/11 healthcare act.The bill has been written in such a way that it would impact only Indian companies.Last week, two American Senators introduced a legislation in the Senate proposing to cut the number of popular H-1B visas by 15,000 and that such a visa be given to highest wage earner first.

Fed raises interest rates by 25 bps
The Federal Reserve hiked interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade on Wednesday, signalling faith that the US economy had largely overcome the wounds of the 2007-2009 financial crisis.The US central bank's policy-setting committee raised the range of its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point to between 0.25 per cent and 0.50 per cent, ending a lengthy debate about whether the economy was strong enough to withstand higher borrowing costs."With the economy performing well and expected to continue to do so, the committee judges that a modest increase in the federal funds rate is appropriate," Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in a press conference after the rate decision was announced. "The economic recovery has clearly come a long way."  The central bank made clear the rate hike was a tentative beginning to a "gradual" tightening cycle, and that in deciding its next move it would put a premium on monitoring inflation, which remains mired below target."The process is likely to proceed gradually," Yellen said, a hint that further hikes will be slow in coming.

India, Bangladesh begin land survey
Bangladesh and India have started demarcating the land in “adverse possessions”  and raising pillars on the international border in Jalpaiguri district of north Bengal. The Survey of India officers have reached the disputed South Berubari gram panchayat in the district and demarcating the boundary, sources told The Hindu. The officials are raising the pillars “immediately” while marking the border in order to avoid future disputes.In June, Bangladesh and India agreed to put an end to the dispute on the basis of 2011 Protocol. The Protocol identified the disputed areas and the 2015 agreement agreed to complete the “ground demarcation” of the boundary in 2016.

IRCTC partners with Paytm for food supply payments
Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), which gets 5.5 to six lakh e-catering bookings daily, has tied up with Paytm to offer an additional payment gateway for food ordered through e-catering facility.“We have roped in leading payment and e-commerce player Paytm for providing maximum options to passengers for making online payments. Efforts are underway to bring in some more reputed caterers in our e-catering portfolio,” said IRCTC chairman and MD AK Manocha in a statement on Wednesday.To enable railway passengers to order food, IRCTC sends an email to passengers one day in advance about food order, which can also be placed during ticket reservations.

India to build sea bridge, tunnel to connect Sri Lanka
India is set to build a sea bridge and tunnel connecting Sri Lanka while a pact has been inked with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal for seamless flow of traffic and passenger vehicles, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari has said.“The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is ready to fully finance a bridge-building project connecting Rameshwaram to Sri Lanka. The project was also discussed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his counterpart during the latter’s recent visit,” Gadkari said in a suo motu statement in the Lok Sabha.

The India-Sri Lanka connectivity project cost is pegged at about Rs 24,000 crore.“The government, right from the day it assumed office, has been focussed on enhancing regional cooperation. Subsequent to Modi’s announcement of ‘Act East policy’, India proactively engaged in building effective and credible links between South Asia and Southeast Asia through enhanced regional connectivity,” he said.A major milestone was the signing of the Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) in Thimphu to facilitate seamless movement of passenger and cargo vehicles in the region, he said.

SC sends Maggi for testing at Mysore lab, Nestle case stayed
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered testing of samples of Maggi noodles in Mysore laboratory after the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) had directed that it be done in Chennai.The consumer commission had on December 10 sent 16 more samples of Maggi noodles for testing at Chennai to ascertain the quantity of lead and monosodium glutamate (MSG) in them in connection with the government’s Rs 640 crore suit against the company for alleged unfair trade practices.A bench of justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant said, “During course of the hearing they (Centre and Nestle) agreed that the primary concern is health and the test has to be carried out to meet the parameters of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.”“The consent was arrived that Mysore is well-equipped with all tests and being a referral notified laboratory, sample should be sent there,” it said.The bench, meanwhile, stayed the proceedings before the NCDRC and directed that the test report, including the earlier one, be placed before it.

World Bank approves $1.5b to support clean India campaign
The World Bank has approved a $1.5 billion loan for the ambitious clean India campaign to support the government in its efforts to ensure all citizens in rural areas have access to improved sanitation and end the practice of open defecation by 2019. The loan will be used for Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) Support Operation Project.More than 500 million of the rural population in India continue to defecate in the open, suffering from preventable deaths, illness, stunting, harassment and economic losses.The Bank said the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) will play the overseeing and coordinating role for the programme and support the participating states.Funds will also be used to develop the capacity of MDWS in program management, advocacy, monitoring and evaluation.“One in every ten deaths in India is linked to poor sanitation. And studies show that low-income households bear the maximum brunt of poor sanitation,” said Onno Ruhl, World Bank Country Director for India.“This project, aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Swachh Bharat initiative of the government, will result in significant health benefits for the poor and vulnerable, especially those living in rural areas,” he said.

Excise duty on petrol, diesel hiked to mop up Rs. 2500 cr
The government today increased excise duty on petrol by Rs. 0.30 per litre and by Rs 1.17 a litre on diesel to make use of slump in oil prices to garner an additional Rs 2,500 crore.Basic excise duty on unbranded petrol has been increased from Rs. 7.06 per litre to Rs. 7.36 and the same on unbranded diesel from Rs. 4.66 to Rs. 5.83 per litre.The increase in duty will yield an additional Rs. 2,500 crore in revenue during the remainder of the 2015-16 fiscal, which ends on March 31, 2016.This is the second increase in excise duty in less than six weeks. The government had on November 7 raised excise duty on petrol by Rs. 1.60 per litre and on diesel by 30 paise a litre.

PM Modi to meet cabinet colleagues over dinner today
With the chances of the GST Bill getting cleared by Parliament appearing slim, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Thursday, will hold a meeting of Council of Ministers.After the meeting that is scheduled for 6:30 pm, the Prime Minister will also host a dinner for his cabinet colleagues.While the interaction is being dubbed as routine, the meeting of the entire cabinet is rare. The PM is expected to seek feedback and give instructions wherever needed to improve governance.

Sanjiv Chaturvedi may soon join Kejriwal as his OSD
Sanjiv Chaturvedi, the whistle-blower Indian Forest Service officer who was removed from the post of chief vigilance officer of All India Institute of Medical Sciences last year, may soon join Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal as his officer on special duty or OSD.The Central Administrative Tribunal has given a deadline of January 5 to the central government in this regard. It has directed the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and the Prime Minister-headed Appointments Committee of the Cabinet to complete the process of Chaturvedi's deputation to the Delhi government immediately.Kejriwal had on February 16 written a letter to environment and forests minister Prakash Javadekar requesting that Chaturvedi be made his OSD. Chaturvedi, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, is currently a deputy secretary at AIIMS. Kejriwal has last year urged the Centre to reinstate Chaturvedi as the chief vigilance officer as the premier medical institution, but the then health minister Harsh Vardhan had said he was not eligible for the position.

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