US considers ‘treaty country status’ for India, easier visas


The United States govern

ment is considering proposals by India for a pact on social security pertaining to non-resident Indians and to be granted “treaty country status”, which will open up new E1 and E2 visa options for Indian businessfolk travelling to American cities, commerce minister Piyush Goyal said on Saturday.

The minister was speaking after discussions between the Indian side and visiting US trade representative Katherine Tai, in which both sides agreed on steps that will open up trade between the countries. The two countries also recently resolved seven trade disputes bilaterally.

Goyal said the visa issue is not directly linked with the commerce ministry and Tai as it pertains to ministry of external affairs (MEA) and the internal security office in the US. “But we want that this matter should be considered from the angle of a trade-enabler. [Bilateral] trade should be promoted,” and USTR could “support” our views in mutual interest, he said on Saturday after the 14th Trade Policy Forum (TPF) meeting.

The commerce minister and USTR co-chaired the TPF meeting in New Delhi on Friday.

Goyal said the commerce ministry and the MEA are on the same page “with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s whole-of-government approach”. External affairs minister S Jaishankar met Tai on Friday and appreciated “the tremendous progress” made in bilateral trade recently.

The Indian proposal mentions a step that will help Indians secure the E1 (treaty trader) or the E2 (treaty investor) visas. Both of these are non-immigrant visas, which means they do not open up avenues for a permanent residency or a green card, but allow for travel to the US on a temporary basis as long as the American government has recognised a traveller’s country as a “treaty nation”.

The US has granted treaty country status to nearly 100 countries, including China (Taiwan), Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka. “Then why to exclude India, which is one of the major trading partners? The issue has been well received by the US officials,” one of the officials present in the TPF meeting said, asking not to be named.

E1 visas are for individuals and employees who may work in roles where they enable trade between the two nations, while E2 visas are for those who invest, or set up businesses, that carry out trade.

“India and USA are important trade allies, particularly when most of the countries are having China-plus-one strategy and they are looking for reliable partners. Hence, by removing small impediments like visa hassles and social security problems, bilateral trade could be facilitated further,” he said. New Delhi also asked Washington to allow renewal of Indian H1B visa in America for both — primary holders and their dependents by doing away the requirement of returning India for the renewal, he said.

The India-US joint statement issued on Friday also mentioned that India raised the visa issues. “The ministers noted that the movement of professional and skilled workers, students, investors and business visitors between the countries contributes immensely to enhancing the bilateral economic and technological partnership. Minister Goyal highlighted challenges being faced by business visitors from India due to visa processing time periods and requested the United States to augment processing,” it said.

Another impediment in services sector, which is in the process of resolution, is a social security totalisation agreement, the official said, adding that Indian labour ministry has recently provided data related to social security schemes to US authorities to facilitate a proposed pact.

The pact will avoid the double deduction of social security contributions from employees such as IT professionals in both nations and facilitate transfer of billions of dollars deposited in social security accounts of Indian workers staying temporarily in America on the work visa.

Goyal said he is hopeful for a bigger and brighter future of bilateral trade between India and the US, especially after the two successfully resolved seven outstanding disputes pending in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) through mutual negotiations, without resorting to any legal process. While the six disputes were resolved during the visit of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US in June 2023, the last remaining dispute was resolved in September 2023 when President Biden visited India for the G20 Summit.

“The proposed totalisation pact and easier visa regime would further facilitate bilateral trade in services,” the official mentioned above said. According to the USTR website, the US exports of services to India were about $25.9 billion in 2022, 40% ($7.4 billion) more than 2021. imports of services from India were estimated at $33.2 billion in 2022, 14.6% ($4.2 billion) more than 2021. Overall, US goods and services trade with India totalled an estimated $191.8 billion in 2022 with exports of $73 billion and imports of $118.8 billion.

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