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From H-1B visas to trade, Congress throws questions at PM Modi ahead of Trump visit

India and the US are expected to finalise at least five memoranda of understanding (MoUs) on issues ranging from trade facilitation to homeland security during Trump’s visit during February 24-25 alongside some defence deals.

Congress leader Randeep Surjewala raised a number of “relevant questions on national interest” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, a day ahead of US president Donald Trump’s two-day visit to India.

India and the US are expected to finalise at least five memoranda of understanding (MoUs) on issues ranging from trade facilitation to homeland security during Trump’s visit during February 24-25 alongside some defence deals.

The two sides are also looking at the trip to strengthen the bilateral strategic partnership and ramp up cooperation in counter-terrorism, defence, security, trade and energy despite their inability to finalise a limited trade package before the stand-alone visit.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala raised the issues of H-1B visas, Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) scheme as well as the agreement between the United States and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also posted short videos.

Surjewala’s first question was about the H-1B visas, a programme targeted by the Trump administration with a view to ensure American jobs do not go to foreigners — in keeping with the president’s “Buy America, Hire American” vision — and has subjected it to intense scrutiny ostensibly to prevent fraud and abuse.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows the US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

“Trump Govt’s restrictive immigration policies have hit H-1B visas. Indians get 70% of 85000 H-1B Visas Now, Rejection Rate for India has increased from 6% in 2015 to 24% in 2019, esp. for IT professionals (sic),” the Congress leader tweeted.

“Post 10 million ppl gala event,Will PM Modi ask for easing H-1B visas? (sic)” he asked.

He then went to ask Prime Minister Modi whether he will bring up issues of national security in view of the US’ deal with the Taliban.

“US prepares to sign deal with Taliban on 29Feb. What about India’s red lines! Have we forgotten IC814hijacking & release of terrorist Masood Azhar in Kandhar,who’s JeM then attacked Parliament & Pulwama? (sic)” Surjewala asked.

“As gala bash unfolds,Will Modiji raise our National Security concerns? (sic)” he added.

GSP, a preferential trade system, was Surjewala’s next tweet.

The US terminated India’s eligibility for GSP, last summer for not granting the US more access to its markets. The scheme allowed zero tariffs on exports to the US worth $5.6 billion.

“Continuing since 1974, US removed India from Duty Free Imports i.e GSP on 5 June,2019 It has affected the $5.6 billion Indian exports to the US, especially gems,jewellery,rice,leather (sic),” he said.

“Post ‘Howdy Modi’ & ‘Namaste Trump’ gala events, Will PM ensure restoration of GSP status?” he questioned.

The Congress leader also had a question over oil prices.

“Uptill 2018, India imported 250Cr ton Crude Oil/month from Iran on ₹payment, 90 days credit & doorstep delivery Modi govt stopped buying cheaper Iran oil as per US sanctions that raised oil prices in India (sic),” the Congress leader tweeted.

“As fest continues in AMD, Will Modiji secure cheaper oil for India?” he questioned.

In all of his questions, Surjewala was talking about the “Namaste Trump” event in Ahmedabad’s newly-built Motera Stadium where the US president will address a public rally with Prime Minister Modi.

He has already questioned the antecedents of the Donald Trump Nagrik Abhinandan Samiti that is organising the Namaste Trump event at the Motera Stadium on February 24. In a series of tweets, Surjewala had sought to know who heads the committee and when the invitation was extended to Trump.

His party colleague, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, has also hit out at the government for spending crores of rupees to welcome Trump.

Chowdhury on Saturday called the US president “Mogambo”, the villain played by late actor Amrish Puri in the Bollywood film ‘Mr India’ and claimed the government is doing everything to make “Mogambo” happy.

After Ahmedabad, he will visit the Taj Mahal in Agra and attend a cultural programme in the city. Trump will then travel to Delhi.

He will be accorded a ceremonial welcome on Monday and he is then scheduled to hold delegation-level meetings with the Indian leader. The day will be capped by a state dinner at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Americans will leave for home the same night.

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