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India wary of US visa bill impact on IT industry




New Delhi/Washington/Bengaluru, Jan 31 : India on Tuesday said it has expressed its concern to the US over a bill to change rules on H-1B visas that will impact the IT industry and Indian techies working in America.

“India’s interests and concerns have been conveyed both to the US administration and the US Congress at senior levels,” said External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup in New Delhi.

The High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017, introduced in the House of Representatives by California Congressman Zoe Lofgren on Monday, calls for doubling the minimum salary of H-1B visa holders to $130,000 from the current minimum wage of $60,000 – a move that could impact Indian techies.

The bill, likely to be signed by President Donald Trump, would make it difficult for firms to use the programme to replace American employees with foreign workers, including from India, with lower wages.

The bill would require that employers first offer a vacant position to an equally or better qualified American worker before seeking an H1B or L-1 visa holder.

It would also establish wage requirements for L-1 workers and improve H1B wage requirements to encourage companies to hire qualified American workers and prevent them from using foreign workers as a source of cheap labour.

H1-B visas are issued to qualified professionals. A related visa is the L-1, which is given to employees of a company who are transferred to the US. Both of them are used extensively by Indian companies.

According to ComputerWorld magazine, nearly 86 per cent of H1-B visas for computer-related jobs and 46.5 per cent for engineering positions were given to Indians.

The US issues 85,000 H1-B visas every year, of which 20,000 are for master’s degree holders from US universities. Because of the large number of applicants – 236,000 in 2016 – the H1-B visas were issued through a lottery system.

As the export-oriented industry’s representative body, Nasscom, said the reform bill was fraught with challenges due to provisions that would nullify its objective of saving American jobs.

“The Lofgren Bill contains provisions that may prove challenging for the Indian IT sector and leave loopholes that will nullify the objective of saving American jobs,” asserted Nasscom in a statement here.

The US market generated about 60 per cent of the $108-billion export revenue for the $143-billion Indian IT industry for the last fiscal (2015-16).

Nasscom’s revised export guidance is $117-119 billion for this fiscal (2016-17).

“Though the bill has to go through an extensive legislative process at the US Congress and the Senate for becoming law, it does not treat all IT service firms with H-1B visa holders equally and the provisions are biased against H-1B dependant firms,” asserted Nasscom President R. Chandrashekhar in a statement here.

Assuring the industry of engaging with the US administration and its lawmakers through the Indian government, the former IT secretary said the apex body would highlight their value contribution as a ‘net creator’ of jobs in the US.

“The Indian IT sector has helped American businesses by providing high-skilled IT solutions in order to innovate, open new markets, expand their operations and creating thousands of new jobs for Americans,” claimed Chandrashekhar.

The bill also does not address the acute shortage of STEM-skilled workers in the US, which led all companies to have a calibrated hiring of locals and bridging the skills gap with skilled workers on non-immigrant visas, including H-1Bs.

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Echoing the Indian government’s and the industry’s concerns over the reform visa bill, Tech Mahindra Chief Executive C.P. Gurnani, however, hoped things would become better once Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Trump in June.

“President Trump (already) had a conversation with Modi. I am sure they will meet very soon. Both of them have a background (Trump has a background of running businesses and Modi is a pro-business prime minister) and both will definitely find a meeting ground,” Gurnani told BTVi in an interview.

Reiterating that Modi was not shy of raising issues, Gurnani said he believed the meeting could happen as early as June and there could be a positive outcome.

“India-incorporated IT companies have invested around $2 billion in the US and are able to create about 100,000 jobs in America,” added Gurnani.

The legislation, Lofgren said, removes the “per country” cap for employment-based immigrant visas so that all workers are treated more fairly and to move to a system where employers hire the most skilled workers without regard to national origin.

“It (bill) offers a market-based solution that gives priority to those companies willing to pay the most. This ensures American employers have access to the talent they need, while removing incentives for companies to undercut American wages and outsource jobs,” she said.

Trump’s spokesperson Sean Spicer said H-1Bs and other visa are “a part of larger immigration reform effort that the President would continue to talk about through executive order and through working with Congress.”

“There is an overall need to look at all these programmes and you will see both through executive action and through comprehensive legislative measures, a way to address immigration as a whole and the visa programmes,” said Spicer.

Before assuming office in January, Trump said one of his first tasks would be to issue an executive order for the Labour Department to investigate visa abuses that he asserted undercut the wages of American workers.

Along with H1-B, Spicer mentioned spousal and others as categories of visas that Trump may act on.

In 2015, President Barack Obama’s administration permitted spouses of H1-B visa-holders to get permission to work.


Trump administration imposes sanctions against 19 Russians over interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Trump himself ignored a question about the new sanctions Thursday during a short press availability in the Oval Office. He did respond to a question on the U.K. attack, saying it “certainly looks like the Russians were behind it.”



Putin Trump

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration took a tougher tone on Russia Thursday, signing on to a statement sharply criticizing Moscow for allegedly orchestrating a chemical weapons attack against an ex-Russian spy in the U.K., and issuing long-awaited sanctions against Russian “cyber actors” for interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The new sanctions — against five entities and 19 individuals — come amid criticism that President Donald Trump had failed to firmly confront and aggressively counter alleged Russian attacks on allied soil and continued efforts to destabilize U.S. politics.

The sanctions, while new from the Treasury Department, overlap with previous steps taken by the U.S., including naming all 13 Russians previously indicted by Robert Mueller for 2016 election meddling. The president has previously sought to delegitimize Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” and called claims that his campaign colluded with Russia “phony.”

On a call with reporters Thursday a senior national security official called the sanctions “just one of a series of ongoing actions we’re taking to counter Russian aggression.”

“There will be more to come,” said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity and offering no further specifics.

Speaking to the disinformation campaign that Russia employed during the 2016 U.S. election, another senior national security official advised that propaganda disinformation campaigns “lose their effect if the American people are aware of foreign actors attempting to manipulate them.”

That awareness could be bolstered by the president, who has been reluctant to speak out at length about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. An official demurred when asked if Trump would speak out as part of these stepped up efforts.

Trump himself ignored a question about the new sanctions Thursday during a short press availability in the Oval Office. He did respond to a question on the U.K. attack, saying it “certainly looks like the Russians were behind it.”

The president begrudgingly signed a bill last year that imposed sanctions on Russia, pressured by his Republican Party not to move on his own toward a warmer relationship with Moscow in light of Russian actions during the 2016 elections. Trump called the bill “seriously flawed — particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate.”

The sanctions announcement came shortly after the release of a joint statement from the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and France on Thursday morning in which the U.S. said it shared British assessments “that there is no plausible alternative explanation” to the military-grade nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, adding that “Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia’s responsibility.”

The White House’s tough response on the chemical attack comes after an initially tepid one from the briefing room lectern on Monday. Asked if the Trump administration shared the U.K.’s assessment that Russia was behind the attack, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered “the fullest condemnation” of the “reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible” act — falling short of saying Russia was definitely behind it.

Just hours before his surprise firing-via-Twitter, outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson broke with the administration on the issue, telling reporters traveling with him on an overseas trip that the poisoning attack “clearly came from Russia” and “certainly will trigger a response.”

The administration’s response evolved by midweek, however, culminating in a forceful and direct statement from Ambassador Nikki Haley at the United Nations Security Council in New York in which she said “the United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent.” She also voiced the “absolute solidarity” of the U.S. with Britain after the U.K.’s decision to expel 23 Russia diplomats in response to the chemical attack.

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Trump sacks Tillerson as secretary of state

The president also nominated Gina Haspel to become the first woman director of the CIA.




US President Donald Trump has sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, replacing him with the director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo.

Thanking Mr Tillerson for his service on Twitter, Mr Trump said the new state secretary would do “a fantastic job”.

Mr Tillerson, a former chief executive of ExxonMobil, was only appointed to the job just over a year ago.

The president also nominated Gina Haspel to become the first woman director of the CIA.

A senior White House official told the BBC about the timing of the announcement: “The president wanted to make sure to have his new team in place in advance of the upcoming talks with North Korea and various ongoing trade negotiations.”

Mr Tillerson was on an official tour of Africa last week when he was apparently caught unawares by Mr Trump’s announcement that he would hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The top US diplomat’s team said he was feeling unwell on Saturday and later in the weekend the state department said he would cut short his tour by a day.

On Monday, Mr Tillerson appeared to depart from White House talking points when he backed British authorities in blaming the Kremlin for the poisoning of a former Russian spy near his home in southern England.

The secretary of state said the nerve agent attack “clearly came from Russia” and “certainly will trigger a response”.

But earlier in the day the White House declined to point the finger at Russia.

Reports have swirled of a schism in the Trump administration between the commander-in-chief and his top diplomat, as the US faces a host of vexatious foreign policy conundrums, from North Korea to Iran.

Last October Mr Tillerson was forced to convene a news conference to deny reports that he was considering quitting, though he did not comment on a report that he had called his boss a moron after a meeting last July at the Pentagon.

Last autumn, Mr Trump publicly undercut the former Texas oilman by tweeting that he was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with nuclear-armed North Korea.

Mr Tillerson was reported to be astonished at how little Mr Trump grasped the basics of foreign policy.

The New York Times quoted sources as saying Mr Trump was irritated by Mr Tillerson’s body language during meetings.

Mr Tillerson was said to roll his eyes or slouch when he disagreed with the decisions of his boss.

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Trump’s lawyer used home equity funds to pay porn star




Washington, March 10 : Donald Trump’s personal lawyer used funds from his own home equity line to make a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels on the US President’s behalf, he told CNN.

“The funds were taken from my home equity line and transferred internally to my LLC account in the same bank,” Cohen said in an interview on Friday.

The lawyer also confirmed that he used his Trump Organization email account to communicate details of a payment transfer to Stephanie Clifford, the adult film star known as Stormy Daniels, who allegedly had an affair with the President before his time in office.

Earlier on Friday, Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, provided an email to CNN in which Cohen confirmed the transfer to Daniels’ former attorney, Keith Davidson.

In the email, both Cohen’s personal email account and email account were used.

The deposit was confirmed to Cohen by a First Republic Bank employee.

Cohen responded later on Friday, saying that he regularly used his business email account for personal matters.

“I sent emails from the Trump Org email address to my family, friends as well as Trump business emails. I basically used it for everything. I am certain most people can relate,” he said.

Avenatti, speaking on MSNBC, said Cohen’s use of his business email to conduct this transaction could be an indication that he was acting in an official capacity as a legal counsel to Trump when he transferred the money to Clifford.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that “arbitration was won in the President’s favour” regarding the case, reports CNN.

The statement was an admission that the nondisclosure agreement exists and that it directly involves Trump.

It was the first time the White House had admitted the President was involved in any way with Clifford.

Clifford filed suit against Trump on Tuesday, alleging that he never signed a hush agreement regarding the alleged affair and therefore the agreement is void.

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