India-US Relations

jetray

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Are countries using visas as weapons to fight diplomatic battles?​


While India does seem to be facing the rough end of visa diplomacy, barriers are going up globally​


Topics
Visa | diplomacy | Visa policy

Subhomoy Bhattacharjee
Last Updated at October 25, 2022 21:28 IST










visa, passport, approval, immigration

Representative Image





In just one month in three meetings with the USA, Australia, and New Zealand, India’s Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar has flagged the topic of visa backlog for Indians.
At the other end, recently-dumped UK home secretary, Suella Braverman, made a priceless gaffe. In reply to a query about the need for visa flexibility for students and entrepreneurs under an India-UK FTA, Braverman said, “But I do have some reservations. Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants”.
An interview for a visitor visa for the USA now runs a backlog of over two and a half years according to its own data (see table). The delays for the UK are far less, but the current two months as per the high commission data are double the standard one month.
“The Covid impact on staffing is over (in consulates) but the backlog for Indian visas has climbed only from early this year”, said an official at the Indian external affairs ministry, speaking strictly off record. The official was referring to the surprising difference in time for visa processing time for the same US visa in Beijing (2 calendar days) and in New Delhi (894 days).
“My gut feeling is that it is linked to our political position on the Russia-Ukraine war which is against the European stand’, the official added. However, UK High Commissioner Alex W Ellis Tweeted in October, "We are on track to get back to processing (India to UK) visa applications within our standard of 15 days”.
Not surprisingly, even the embassies of Switzerland and Germany have advised applicants on their websites about possible delays. Student visa to Germany, for instance, has a backlog of 10 weeks (see table).
Visa diplomacy, a term coined in a 2004 paper by Kevin D Stringer, for a paper for Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’, seems to be gaining traction the world over. Stringer had defined visa diplomacy as the “use of visa issuance or denial at an individual, group or interstate level, to influence another state’s policies”. The irritants in the visa regime, ratcheted up by Braverman’s own goal, have almost sunk the India-UK free trade talks. It could also delay the India-EU talks, which had astonishingly resumed in June this year, after a nine-year hiatus.
While India does seem to be facing the rough end of visa diplomacy, barriers are going up globally. Most of these are part of the protectionist trend worldwide, countries are ramping up rules, especially about visas, which potentially allow entrants to work in some form or other. The UK last week expanded its British National Overseas (BNO) route to encourage inflow from Hong Kong, to cripple the economic life of the latter.
Emphasis only on highly skilled
Central to these exercises are the moves to attract highly skilled workers and drain out the lower-end ones. OECD has coined the term “digital nomads”, in a paper on visa policies to describe those who might wish to stay somewhere and work elsewhere are welcome. To be sure, there were earlier episodes like post-September 2001 when higher education departments in the USA ran dry of foreign students as Washington DC rung in huge restraints.
The trend has sharpened globally after the coronavirus pandemic, as countries balance the need to provide more health care in future emergencies, to foreigners who will compete with the locals. It makes sense, therefore, to subject those lower down the economic ladder to stricter scrutiny. Yet, work permits and visa regimes are critical to facilitate the cross-border movement of people, says Arpita Mukherjee, a specialist on trade issues. The Professor at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations says, “the widening spread of online applications for different types of visa is expected to cut down processing time for business travellers”. It does not seem to have happened, though, as countries raise scrutiny.
Singapore plans to bring in a law by early 2023, to almost weed out work permit visas, applicable for semi-skilled migrant workers restricting immigration into the city-state. Even at the top end, the feted employment pass will be available for overseas professionals only with a floor salary of $10,000 a month, double the current threshold.
Saudi Arabia has sought to offer fair rules for expatriate workers, but it has also made it costlier for companies to bring back such workers, and declared them absent from work. These absences are often due to non-payment of wages. A survey by an Indian think tank showed that 39 per cent of the workers from West Asia returning to Kerala and Tamil Nadu faced issues of non-payment of wages. The new rules will raise the cost of going back to those jobs.
Hong Kong last week announced sweeping changes to its visa rules under which the “government will proactively trawl the world for talent”, said the city’s chief executive John Lee. While the city has seen a crippling departure of 140,000 workers, it will still mostly encourage immigrants at the top of the income scale, just like Singapore.
In contrast with the globally converging norms on passports, which are veering towards electronic ones, the rules governing visas in most countries are predictably different. And this has spread in a more protectionist world order to cleave between categories of foreigners arriving on shore. And central to those are the rules around visas.
An OECD report “International Migration Outlook 2021”, notes that globally more countries are now offering the carrot of faster processing time but making the switch over to the digitalisation of visas to do more intense checks on worker status. While Covid brought home the need for immigration to replenish the dwindling stock of local workers at home, like “specific measures to facilitate the entry of health care and seasonal agricultural workers”, the accent clearly is on making the inward pathways for high income easier but difficult for others.
Digital Nomad
This is what has surprised the Indian external affairs official. The processing time, by any reckoning, has shot up without any change in the inflow. The USA, for instance, issued 88,056 visas for India across 41 categories in September. A third of these were for the highest category H1-B and their spouses H4. The numbers issued at the same time in pre-Covid years, in September 2019 and 2018, were roughly the same. Yet the massively longer waiting time shows the delay is affecting other categories, or in other words, there is more scrutiny.
In other OECD countries, a new visa regime is clearly in the works. This will be a novel response to the OECD paper, Migration Policy Debates notes. “A dedicated pathway for digital nomads and remote workers is a novel response by several OECD and non-OECD countries to adapt to the changing world of work”. Countries earlier had practically sold visas to high-net-worth individuals. The threshold for a Digital Nomad electronic visa is far lower at a range of Rs 3.5-4 lakh per month income and runs no risk of cross-country problems.
It notes that these Digital Nomad Visas are now issued by six OECD countries and at least 22 non-OECD countries. They will allow foreign workers to stay in the country and work remotely for a company abroad. Many others, the paper says have announced plans to introduce such visas.
Like the weaponisation of technologies and of capital (sanctions), Covid and the Russia-Ukraine war seems to have triggered similar weaponisation of cross-border movement of workers. Just as the war had made the EU keen to resume trade talks with India, the visa battles will possibly drown it again.
 

RISING SUN

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China tests America’s will with clashes along India border​

The latest clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a reminder that China, under President Xi Jinping, plans to remain aggressive and assertive after the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. With limited and manageable conflict in the Himalayas, the Chinese are testing the will of the United States to check China’s muscle flexing and the strength of burgeoning American partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, especially the one with India.

In China’s reckoning, India is both its most likely Asian rival with a comparable population size and the least likely American military ally in the Indo-Pacific Quad (a loose grouping of U.S., Australia, Japan and India). Given India’s desire to maintain sovereign autonomy, China wants to provoke India into ending its current close relationship with the U.S. — a relationship that is not a military alliance.

Chinese leaders seem to believe that, faced with the prospect of an aggressive China on its land border, India will be further compelled to maintain a more balanced posture towards China and the United States. The U.S. goal, in such circumstances, should be to continue to persuade India to improve its military preparedness, hasten its military modernization and increase interoperability of military equipment in India’s use with American (and allied) systems.

The Biden administration reacted to the latest India-China conflict with a strong statement offering support for India and referring to Chinese actions as provocative. The last time the two sides fought along the India-China border, the U.S. enhanced intelligence sharing with India. This time, in addition to intelligence sharing, the U.S. could fast-track supply of advanced military equipment to India to signal its support for a key partner that is not a formal military ally.

The Dec. 9 clash in the Yangtse area, near Tawang in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, was the second such clash in slightly over a year between Indian and Chinese troops. The two forces also fought in June 2020, when Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) troops attacked Indian border guards at Galwang in Ladakh, along a disputed border, armed with crudely fashioned spiked clubs. There was another border clash in October 2021.

The two sides have now disengaged after a flag meeting between local commanders. Although 15 Indians and an unknown number of Chinese troops sustained injuries, the casualties were not comparable to the 2020 fighting in Galwang when 20 Indian and 40 Chinese soldiers reportedly died, and many others were injured.

While the 2020 fighting was in Ladakh, this time the Chinese chose Arunachal Pradesh to flex their muscle. Both these Indian states have long been claimed by China, though India and most members of the international community disagree.

The latest confrontation between Indian and Chinese troops was interestingly timed. It occurred just one month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi met at the G-20 Summit in Bali and one week after the annual U.S.-India military exercise – “Yudh Abhyas 2022” (War Simulation or Preparation). China had expressed displeasure at the exercise, which was held around 60 miles from the India-China border.

Unlike 2020, when the Indian side limited its response to diplomacy, the Indian army reacted strongly this time and beat back the attackers. A new deployment strategy – with one layer of troops who patrol close to the border and a second layer of troops or Quick Reaction Team who, if need be, can be deployed to match the PLA numbers – made the Indian military reaction possible.
After the 2020 standoff, the two sides undertook 16 rounds of diplomatic and military negotiations, but they were unable to reach a mutually acceptable solution. Beijing lays the blame at Delhi’s door, arguing that China has simply been responding to Indian infrastructure build up along the border. China insists its troops are simply “upholding China’s territorial and sovereignty security” and responding to India’s “trespassing and infringing activities.”
India maintains that it has been upgrading its border infrastructure for over a decade and that China has disturbed three decades of “peace and tranquility.” Unlike in the past when India was willing to continue business as usual with China even without the border being restored to status quo ante, Delhi now insists that restoration of normal relations is contingent on restoring peace along the border.

The regularity of Chinese forays along the Himalayan border with India suggests that these are not local tactical maneuvers but are part of a broader Chinese strategy. China is concerned about India’s closer alignment with the United States and its partners — in the Indo Pacific and through the Quad.

The emerging India-U.S. strategic partnership, and India’s signing of foundational military agreements with the U.S., has meant that both the Trump and Biden administrations were willing to share intelligence with and help India bolster its capabilities on the border. Now, India and the U.S. must identify advanced weapons systems that the U.S. and its allies might be able to deliver to India to deal with the rising Chinese threat.

The U.S. focus on the Indo-Pacific has convinced China that it would have to face the U.S. and its allies in East and Southeast Asia, and in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. China is, therefore, targeting India’s vulnerabilities on the land border. Through periodic border clashes, China is warning India that its Quad partners will not be able to help India in the Himalayan region and, therefore, India should think twice about becoming part of America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

Most India-U.S. discussions about security cooperation have been about the maritime arena. The U.S. could upend China’s efforts to scare India out of close ties with the U.S. by showing an interest in improving the capabilities of the Indian army as much as the U.S. seems interested in India’s Air Force and Navy. Washington and New Delhi may also have to settle on some middle ground between India’s insistence on technology transfer and U.S. offers of just selling more military equipment, which has stalled India’s military modernization for years.
Husain Haqqani, former ambassador of Pakistan to the U.S., is director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute. Aparna Pande is director of the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.
 

jetray

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Whether you like it or not Our future is with aligning more and more towards west.
Just bcos both of them are going to the same market does not mean they are preparing the same dish. Its just the directions which we are looking might be same but the endgame is different.

US is looking at global domination while India wants to stave of china, there is a world of difference between the two. A very basic simple question is, why would US allow another country which does not follow its diktats take china's position?
 

RISING SUN

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US-India at 75: A new relationship for a new global dynamic​

The US and India celebrated 75 years of diplomatic relations this year. Over the course of the 75, the relationship has had its fair share of ups and downs with only the last two decades witnessing a steady upward momentum.

Nevertheless, 2022 made it abundantly clear that there are several Cold-War era differences that could dampen the enthusiasm in Washington and New Delhi. Both governments should prevent these differences from hijacking the relationship. Alternatively, they should ride the momentum built over the last two decades to expand the sustained good relations from Hawaii to the Himalayas using three pillars — defense, trade and diaspora.

The U.S. and India never had a comprehensive defense partnership. This was not so much a product of divergences in values, but of interests. During the Nixon era, America’s interest in opening up to China and cozying up to Pakistan made defense ties with India infelicitous. America’s awakening to the threat of China under the Trump administration reinforced the need to recalibrate the U.S.-India relationship, in particular, positioning it as an Indo-Pacific partner over a South Asian Cold-War era adversary.

Interestingly, on this subject, the Biden administration has not changed course from the previous administration. The National Defense Strategy released in late October highlights the multi-domain threat posed by China and has included the Australia-United Kingdom-United States partnership AUKUS and the Indo-Pacific Quad as mechanisms to address that challenge. Notably, the document outlines the U.S. government’s interest in supporting India’s capabilities to address Chinese aggression — a significant departure from previous iterations of the congressionally-mandated review document.

Similarly, the National Security Strategy released by the White House eminently features India’s role, both in the bilateral relationship and through groupings such as the Quad. These are not just words in strategies. They’ve been acted upon through military and naval exercises, both at the India-China border between the two armies and in the Indo-Pacific with the navies participating in exercises such as Malabar and Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC). With the upcoming military exercise in Auli, India, a town 100 km away from China, the U.S.-India defense partnership is moving closer to an alliance.

However, as the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy have highlighted, China presents a multi-domain challenge to the free world. Trade, as it intersects with national security, has a significant role to play in both expanding the U.S.-India relationship and in addressing China’s weaponization of interdependence.

Rightly so, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in her recent trip to India, said “India’s membership in Indo-Pacific Economic Framework [IPEF], in efforts to make our supply chains more resilient through what I call friend-shoring, are tightening those ties,” The United States is pursuing “friend-shoring” to diversify away from countries such as China that present geopolitical and security risks to supply chains. “To do so, we are proactively deepening economic integration with trusted trading partners like India,” Yellen continued.

A few of these measures have already come to fruition such as Apple moving a part of its iPhone manufacturing facility to India.

Nonetheless, defense and trade are a work in progress. As former U.S. ambassador to India, Richard Verma put it, the Indian diaspora can be a potent force. In order to accelerate the trade and defense ties, the strongest pillar, the diaspora will have to act.

Indian Americans, estimated at more than 4.6 million, have been growing in economic, political and cultural clout since they first started immigrating here in large numbers in the 1960s. While cleavages exist, as in any diasporic community, they’ve generally had a positive impact on U.S.-India relations, working to bring these two vibrant democracies closer together.

Given their increasing prominence across all industries and sectors, they’re likely to play an even more significant role going forward. Notably, the Indian diaspora can help lessen misunderstandings about political, human rights and interreligious dynamics on the ground in India that are frequently used by some to attempt to disrupt and weaken the bilateral relationship.

The diaspora also can and has been involved in educating policymakers about India’s role in geopolitics. For instance, many Indian American leaders and organizations recently advocated for clarity and accurate information about India’s relationship with Russia against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.

Besides the recent uptick in oil trade, the India-Russia relationship has not witnessed any growth over the past decade. While Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar may characterize it as “exceptionally steady,” the word more appropriate is stagnant. The relationship was underpinned by defense trade and interestingly, Modi has actively pursued a policy of diversification in his eight years in office, shaking the very foundations of the relationship.

Nevertheless, going forward, the perennial challenge for the U.S.-India relationship could be the divergence in world views. India is envisioning a multipolar world order and the U.S. position on this is ambiguous at best.

In mid-November Indonesian President Joko Widodo, commonly referred to as Jokowi, handed the G20 gavel to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since its founding 14 years ago, the G20 has played a role in bringing the developed West and the developing Global South together in one room to share their perspectives. Interestingly, this iteration led by Indonesia, in its communique had Modi’s famous words to Putin, “today’s era must not be of war,” clearly indicating India’s role in forming consensus.

At 75, India finally sits at the high table, not as a Western power but as a leader in the Global South. Time will tell if the “Hawaii to Himalayas” relationship has room for that divergence and if the U.S. will take a more egalitarian approach to world affairs, humbling itself to engage the Global South on equal terms.
 

RISING SUN

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India-US Trade Policy Forum to meet on January 11 in Washington​

The India-US Trade Policy Forum (TPF), a forum to resolve trade and investment issues between the two countries, will hold a meeting in Washington on January 11, the commerce ministry said on Sunday.

The TPF has five focus groups -- Agriculture, Investment, Innovation and Creativity (intellectual property rights), Services and Tariff and Non-Tariff Barriers.

The meeting will be co-chaired by Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

Goyal will be on an official visit to New York and Washington DC from 9-11 January, the ministry said.

The 12th TPF meeting was held on November 23, 2021, after a gap of four years here.

"Working groups were re-activated after the last ministerial. TPF is a platform for continuous engagement between two countries in the area of trade and to further the trade and investment relations between the two countries. Both countries are looking forward to the meeting and confident of making progress on the trade issues," the ministry said.

The meeting was deferred earlier in November last year due to local elections in both countries.

In last year's meeting, India had asked for the restoration of GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) benefits to Indian exporters on which the US side had stated that this could be considered.

To further promote trade, the two sides had expressed an intent to continue to work together on resolving outstanding trade issues as some of these require additional engagement to reach convergence in the near future.

The bilateral trade between the countries has increased to USD 119.5 billion in 2021-22 from USD 80.5 billion in 2020-21. India received USD 55.61 billion in foreign direct investment from the US between April 2000 and June 2022.

In the first leg of the visit, Goyal will interact with CEOs of reputed multinational enterprises, join round table meetings with business leaders and think tanks and visit industries in New York.

The two countries are also collaborating under the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), I2U2 (India-Israel/ UAE-USA) and IPEF (Indo-Pacific Economic Framework).

The I2U2 - comprising India, Israel, the UAE and the US - was established in October 2021.
 
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RISING SUN

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