In hitting US shores, Indians are second only to Mexicans

Via The Times of India

NEW DELHI: If flights to the US were already full, they’re set to get crammed thanks to the growing bonhomie between the two countries.

US ambassador David Mulford said on Thursday that 8 lakh visas were expected to be issued to Indians this year for both business and pleasure, making India the second largest source of travellers to the US — after Mexico. “And we don’t even share a border with India,” said Mulford.

There was also good news for work visas and a windfall in FDIs. US-sourced FDI to India was set to touch $1 billion, breaching by several hundred millions the last highs. A senior trade official pointed out, “The India-Russia bilateral trade is less than the pledged investment by IBM alone.”

The surge in the number of Indians travelling to the US — last year 5 lakh visas were issued — is only matched by the rush for H1B visas. Having filled the quota in May 2006, this year, it’s largely believed to breach its cap by April 15. Two years ago, the H1B quota finished on August 9. Last year, it finished on May 25.

US president George Bush has publicly advocated raising the H1B cap, giving a bigger profile to the immigration debate currently raging in the US. “We’ve got to expand what’s called H1B visas… I feel strongly about what I’m telling you. It makes no sense to say to a young scientist from India, you can’t come to America to help this company develop technologies that help us deal with our problems,” Bush had said.

The H1B visa programme is currently capped at 65,000. High-tech industry in the US and India has been lobbying, along with Indian-American advocacy groups, for increasing the cap to 115,000. Legislation to this effect failed to make the grade in the last Congress, and with elections coming up, its prospects this year are uncretain.

The contrast to travel patterns of the global Indian to Britain and other European countries could not be starker. With the British government effecting the highly skilled migration programme (HSMP visa) in December, it has actually constrained movement of skilled Indians. It took finance minister P Chidambaram to warn the UK in London last week that it would be the ‘loser’ if it did not relax immigration laws.

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