H-1B visas: Relief for Indians as US allows fast processing of applications

In what can be perceived as a sigh of relief for Indians looking to move to or already reside in the United States, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) notified that it will resume premium and fast processing for certain cap-exempt H-1B petitions, effective immediately.

The H-1B visa has an annual cap of 65,000 visas each financial year. Additionally, there is an annual “master’s cap” of 20,000 petitions filed for beneficiaries with a US master’s degree or higher.

 

The petitioners who are eligible for premium processing can file Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.

Form I-907 can be filed together with an H-1B petition or separately for a pending H-1B petition, the USCIS notified.

Premium processing will resume for petitions that may be exempt from the cap if the H-1B petitioner is an institution of higher education, a nonprofit related to or affiliated with an institution of higher education; or a nonprofit research or governmental research organisation.

Premium processing will also resume for petitions that may also be exempt if the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap-exempt institution, organisation or entity.

Earlier, USCIS had announced that premium processing resumed on June 26 for H-1B petitions filed on behalf of physicians under the Conrad 30 waiver program as well as interested government agency waivers.

USCIS plans to resume premium processing of other H-1B petitions as workloads permit.

The notification further highlighted that the USCIS will make additional announcements with specific details related to when they will begin accepting premium processing for those petitions. Until then, premium processing remains temporarily suspended for all other H-1B petitions, it said.

Further, the USCIS will reject any Form I-907 filed for those petitions, and if the petitioner submitted one check combining the Form I-907 and Form I-129 fees, the USCIS will reject both forms.

The H1-B visa conundrum has been a long standing matter of conflicting opinions between India and the US. It is said that the new regulation will largely affect those employed in the States, majorly from the IT sector.

A legislation was passed earlier in the year mandating that the minimum salary of H-1B visa holders be increased to $130,000 from $60,000, in the US House of Representatives by Congressman Zoe Lofgren.

If passed, the legislation will make it very difficult for American companies to use H-1B visas to hire foreign workers, including IT professionals from India

Last month, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit, Director of India initiative at Hudson Institute Dr Aparna Pande had said the H-1B visa is a part of United States President Donald Trump’s desire to overhaul the entire immigration system of the country.

“H-1B is a part of Trump’s desire to overhaul the entire immigration system and it will not only affect India but countries from where people come to U.S,” Pande told ANI.

Pande further said that H-1B is important and every Indian Prime Minister going back to Manmohan Singh and before him discussed H-1B issue.

She added that H1-B is more important also because of the certain rise of nationalism in US and racist attacks.

H-1B visas: Relief for Indians as US allows fast processing of applications

Shipbuilders go through grim scenario; Cochin Shipyard IPO to open on Aug 1

Realignments in the domestic shipbuilding industry over the past four years have not improved business prospects for key players in the sector. While state-owned Cochin Shipyard is coming up with its initial public offering, August 1 to August 3, efforts made by private shipbuilders to revive their businesses have been largely in vain.

“The government is trying to boost the domestic shipbuilding sector for some time now. It is due to this IPO that the sector has come into the limelight,” Hitesh Avachat, deputy manager, CARE Ratings, said. “Otherwise prospects for the shipbuilding industry continue to remain dull in the short to medium term.”

Cochin Shipyard, the country’s largest public sector shipyard, will see a 10 per cent disinvestment by the government and a 20 per cent fresh issue of shares. After this IPO, the government will have a 75 per cent shareholding while the balance 25 per cent will be held by the public.

 

Domestic private shipbuilders continue to grapple with the grim business climate despite restructuring. For instance, debt-laden Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering, which was acquired by Anil Ambani-led Reliance Infrastructure in 2015, is seeing operational losses for the last two years.

Analysts, however, are of the view that buyouts in the sector are largely distress buys and do not signal any positive business outlook.

ABG Shipyard, on the other hand, is struggling to get a buyer. Though the company is currently in talks with UK-based Liberty Group, the latter is not the first buyer that has come to ABG Shipyard. Germany-based Privinvest Holding had been in talks with the company, but nothing materialised. Debt-laden ABG is among 12 companies identified by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for being referred to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).

Domestic private shipbuilders have realigned their business models to cater for government-funded defence contracts, as orders for commercial vessels have dried up amid oversupply.

Commercial shipbuilder Bharati Shipyard even got its name changed to Bharati Defence and Infrastructure to reiterate its business focus.

China is the largest shipbuilder and is known for low-cost, high-volume shipbuilding. It is followed by South Korea and Japan, which took over from Europe decades ago. Though the shipbuilding industry in India does not feature among the top shipbuilding nations, the sector is expected to thrive on increased defence orders from the government in the coming years.

“Domestic shipbuilders have also moved into the shipping services segment by offering maintenance services of vessels. This too has not helped them because vessel owners are so cash-strapped that even maintenance is not affordable at this juncture,” said Avachat.

Industry officials were of the view that equity infusion is perhaps the only option for the sector because any effort done operationally will come at a cost and none (shipbuilder or ship-buyer) is in a position to bear the cost in the current business climate.

 

Shipbuilders go through grim scenario; Cochin Shipyard IPO to open on Aug 1

Gold Flakes pack of 10 costs Rs 150: ITC raises cigarette price due to GST

ITC has raised prices of select cigarette brands to pass on the 6-7 per cent hike in the additional cess on cigarettes.

Sameer Deshmukh, a research analyst with Reliance Securities, said the price hikes were 6-15 per cent across brands with the average hike coinciding with the 6-7 per cent rise in effective taxes under the goods and services tax.

An ITC statement said prices of its Classic and Gold Flake brands had been increased to Rs 150 for a pack of 10. The price of Wills has been raised to Rs 94 for a pack of 10. Wills Flake is now priced at Rs 66.

 

The GST Council at its meeting on July 17 increased the compensation cess by Rs 485-792 per thousand cigarettes. A 31 per cent increase in the ad valorem component of the cess was levied under the ‘others’ category.

“Prices of select brands have been revised. There is adequate availability of stocks in the market,” an ITC spokesperson said.
The company clarified the price hike would be immediate. “In respect of cigarettes manufactured or packed prior to July 18 and are yet to be sold to consumers, the maximum retail price stands revised,” the notice stated.

The GST Council, after reducing the additional cess on cigarettes by 6 per cent earlier this month revised rates on July 18.

“The price increase will hit sales and thus the company’s top line. However, since ITC is passing on the additional tax burden to consumers, its operational margins will remain stable,” Deshmukh said.

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Industry executives said the effective tax hike for 2017-18 was 16-17 per cent if the previous increase of 6 per cent announced in the Budget was taken into consideration.

The ITC scrip reacted positively to the price revision and climbed 1.63 per cent to Rs 293.20 on the BSE.

Stocks of other cigarette companies like Godfrey Phillips, VST Industries also reacted positively.

Gold Flakes pack of 10 costs Rs 150: ITC raises cigarette price due to GST

Panama leaks:These countries are conduits for world’s biggest tax havens

First came the Panama Papers, then the BahamasLeaks. Journalists continue to shed light on and raise a public outcry over the offshore financial centres that corporations use to reduce their tax bill – something that is still being challenged in court.

A new study has now uncovered all the world’s corporate tax havens and, for the first time, revealed the intermediary countries that companies use to funnel their money into these places.

Published on July 24 in the academic journal Scientific Reports, the paper Uncovering Offshore Financial Centers: Conduits and Sinks in the Global Corporate Ownership Network shows that offshore finance is not the exclusive business of exotic, far-flung places such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

 

The Netherlands and the United Kingdom also play a crucial – although a heretofore obscure – role in the tax-avoidance game, acting as conduits for corporate profits as they make their way to tax havens.

What makes a tax shelter

Tax havens are a popular, legal and often secret instrument for multinational corporations to move capital across borders. By taking advantage of loopholes in various national legislations and placing operations in countries with low taxes, companies can reduce their tax rate from around 35% to 25% to 15% or lower.

The United States Effective Corporate Tax Rate (1947-2011)

Silicon Valley companies have become expert at this tactic. Using a combination of subsidiaries in Ireland, the Netherlands and Bermuda to reduce its tax burden, Apple paid just 0.005% tax on its European profits in 2014, the European Comission reported.

If multinationals’ profits were accounted for where the economic activity takes place, they would pay a combined US$500 to US$650 billion more on taxes each year, according to estimates by the Tax Justice Network and the International Monetary Fund. Of this, around US$200 billion a year would go to developing countries, which is more than they receive annually in development aid (US$142.6 billion).

Findings like this have put tax havens on the radar of US and European regulators, but there’s no broadly accepted definition of what makes a country an offshore financial centre.

Lists published by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Monetary Fund use different criteria to define tax shelters, and their outcomes are highly politicised.

The Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index, Oxfam’s list of the worst corporate tax havens and Jan Fichtner’s 2015 Offshore-Intensity Ratio have proven to be more useful.

Fichtner (a co-author of this article) provides a rough yardstick for judging OFC jurisdictions by examining the proportion between foreign capital, such as FDI, and the size of the domestic economy.

What none of these measures can tell us, though, is the origin of the foreign investment reported by these tax havens. How does Apple’s money get from California to Bermuda anyway?

Big data and network analysis

By bringing together political economists and computer scientists in the CORPNET research group at the University of Amsterdam, it became possible to study how corporations make use of particular countries and jurisdictions in their international ownership structures. The novel, data-driven network approach of our study shed light on how offshore finance flows across the globe.

We looked not at country-level statistics but at detailed company data. By asking which countries and jurisdictions play a role in corporate ownership chains that is incommensurate with the size of their domestic economies, we were able to identify, for the first time, a complex global web of offshore financial centres.

We analysed the entire massive global network of ownership relations, with information of over 98 million firms and 71 million ownership relations. This granular firm-level network data helped us to distinguish two kinds of tax havens: sinks and conduits.

Introducing sinks and conduits

“Sink OFCs” attract and retain foreign capital. We identified 24 sink OFCs, including well-known tax havens such as Luxembourg, Hong Kong, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands, but also Taiwan, a heretofore unnoticed tax haven.

Using our method, we can now investigate which jurisdictions are used by corporations en route to sinks. These “conduit OFCs” are attractive intermediate destinations because their numerous tax treaties, low or zero withholding taxes, strong legal systems and good reputations for enabling the quiet transfer of capital without taxation.

We found that a handful of big countries – the Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland, Singapore and Ireland – serve as the world’s conduit OFCs. Together, these five conduits channel 47% of corporate offshore investment from tax havens, according to the data we analysed.

The Netherlands leads the pack with 23%, followed by the UK (14%), Switzerland (6%), Singapore (2%) and Ireland (1%).

Each conduit jurisdiction is specialised both geographically and in industrial sectors. The Netherlands excels in holding companies, for example, while Luxembourg favours “administrative services”. Hong Kong’s geographic speciality lies in connecting to the British Virgin Islands and Taiwan.

New targets

Our findings debunk the myth of tax shelters as exotic far-flung islands that are difficult, if not impossible, to regulate. Many offshore financial centres are highly developed countries with strong regulatory environments.

That means that targeting conduit OFCs rather than sinks could prove more effective in stemming tax avoidance. This realisation may help European Union and the OECD officials, who have increased pressure on cracking down on tax avoidance since the 2008-2009 financial crisis (to modest effect), by helping regulators better tailor their policies.

British Finance Minister Philip Hammond has speculated that the UK could become a European tax haven if the EU fails to offer it a good Brexit deal. But, in practice, the City of London is already a major offshore financial centre.

Sink Offshore Financial Centres

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Of 24 sink OFCs, 18 have a current or past dependence to the UK, including major tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and Jersey. New territories with low or no corporate taxes are continuously emerging as sink OFCs, but, as our study shows, there are just a handful of conduit OFCs.

Panama leaks:These countries are conduits for world’s biggest tax havens

Madras HC makes Vande Mataram mandatory in Tamil Nadu’s schools, offices

The Madras High Court on Tuesday ruled that ‘Vande Mataram‘ must be sung schools, educational institutes and government offices.

Justice M V Muralidharan said that schools must be made to follow it at least once a week either on Monday or Friday, whereas, the national song must be sang in offices once a month.

 

“Vande Mataram is of Sanskrit origin, and written in Bengali which is ought to be sung in every school and college,” Muralidharan added.

He further directed the Director of Public Information to upload and circulate the translated version of Vande Mataram in Tamil and English, thereby making it available in the government websites and also in the social media.

“Let a copy of this order be marked to the chief secretary of the Tamil Nadu government, who shall issue appropriate instructions to the concerned authorities,” he asserted.

Muralidharan said that in the event, if any person or organisation has difficulty in singing or playing the national song, he or she shall not be compelled or forced to sing it, provided there are valid reasons for not doing so.

“The youth of this country are the future of tomorrow. This court hopes and trusts that this order shall be taken in the right spirit and also implemented in letter and spirit by the citizenry of this great nation,” he added.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court is also hearing a petition asking the Centre to make the singing of Vande Mataram mandatory in schools.

While the apex court had in April given the Centre four weeks to reply, the next date of hearing is scheduled for August 25.

Madras HC makes Vande Mataram mandatory in Tamil Nadu’s schools, offices

Salasar Techno makes stellar debut; lists at 140% premium against IPO price

Salasar Techno Engineering has made a stellar debut by listing at Rs 259, a 140% premium against its initial public offer (IPO) price of Rs 108 on BSE (Bombay Stock Exchange).

At 11:03 am; the stock was trading at Rs 271, after hitting high of Rs 272 on BSE. It touched a low of Rs 250 in intra-day trade so far. Around 938,000 equity shares changed hands on the counter, the BSE data shows.

 

Salasar Techno Engineering’s Rs 36 crore IPO had received a robust response from the investors with the issue getting subscribed 270 times with a demand worth Rs 9,793 crore. The company issued 3.32 million shares at fixed price of Rs 108 per share. The portion reserved for non-retail individual investors subscribed by 484 times, while retail portion was subscribed by 58 times.

Salasar Techno Engineering proposed to utilize the funds to meet the working capital requirements of the Company including margin money.

The company is a provider of customised steel fabrication and infrastructure solutions in India for telecommunication towers, transmission towers & substation structures and solar module mounting structures.

Salasar Techno makes stellar debut; lists at 140% premium against IPO price

Mr Gadkari, allowing driverless cars will generate more high-paying jobs

Nagpur, the home town of Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, is now a laboratory to test electric vehicles for public transport in India.

Cab aggregator Ola is testing a model that uses electric auto rickshaws, cars, and buses to make adoption of electric vehicles for mass transport viable. If the Nagpur experiment succeeds, Ola will execute the promise by its investor, Japanese internet firm Softbank, of running over a million electric vehicles across India. This vision requires massive investments in cars, buses, and the charging infrastructure. In addition, investments are also required in batteries, which India currently imports.

Both Ola and Uber have an asset-light model — they don’t own the cars that run on their platforms. Instead, the cars are leased by the drivers, who repay the loans, spend on maintaining the cars, and then earn enough to fend for themselves. In scale, electric cars have better efficiency and are cheaper to run for more miles than fossil fuel-powered cars.

 

Till 2016, Ola and Uber splurged billions to woo thousands of drivers to their respective platforms. However, as the taps turned dry and investors pushed them towards profitability, they cut incentives for the drivers and increased prices. This move saw several thousand drivers and customers move away from the respective platforms. There are hundreds of cars on sale now as drivers are finding running on either platform unviable.

The country has seen a spate of protests from drivers seeking government intervention. In this context, Gadkari’s statement that driverless cars will not be allowed in India in order to save jobs appears to be aimed at pacifying the unrest among drivers.

The electric cars vision is nice till Ola reaches a certain scale. Ola needs to make profits for itself and its investors. When the network effect comes into play, the winner dominates the market and the runner up becomes a distant second. Google and Facebook have become monopolies because of this network effect — the more users a company has, the harder it will get for rivals to compete with it.

So, after ensuring that there are thousands of electric vehicles on Indian roads and make it a habit for users to use their platform like they did for diesel run cars, their next logical move would be to look at autonomous vehicles.

Rival Uber has already begun testing autonomous cars in the US. Uber can do trips round the clock; there is no need to pay a driver as he or she doesn’t exist, and rides get cheaper for consumers.

So Gadkari saying that India suffers shortage of 22 lakh drivers and to protect them, India will not allow driverless cars doesn’t make sense. Ask these drivers, if they have a better career option, they would not want to drive cars or trucks on Indian roads.

Today, no global automaker is confident that Indian roads can have driverless cars. Instead, what Gadkari needs to do is encourage Indian innovation in autonomous vehicles. This will attract massive investments by companies in designing vehicles, building sensors and lidars, training the cars to drive on Indian roads. All of this before the first car goes for testing on the roads. We also will make advances in technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and other emerging areas, where India currently lags behind China and the US.

Autonomous cars can bring in value to planners like Gadkari’s ministry to design better road signs, understand how vehicles are being driven and help build better infrastructure. This also requires Gadkari and his government to invest in an independent regulator, frame laws to govern them and ensure fair play. It is hard work but the government also need to work on improving education to the masses to tap these opportunities.

” We are not going to promote any technology that will render people jobless,” Gadkari has claimed.

But allowing driverless cars will generate jobs and more high paying jobs that will help the government use the tax payers money for creating better education and physical infrastructure.

Mr Gadkari, allowing driverless cars will generate more high-paying jobs