Event ReportsPublished on Jun 13, 2017
'Visa-issue can be a bargain-chip in bilateral talks with US'
"Visa reforms in the US will be a trigger-point for policy-making that also benefits India,” according to Dr Narayan Lakshman, Senior Deputy Editor of The Hindu, Chennai. Initiating an interaction on “Visa denials and skilled migrants at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai, on June 10, Dr Narayan said the current ‘visa denial’ by the US is based on an Executive Order of President Donald Trump, to enforce an existing law, and does not involve Congress proposing/enacting a new law. Dr Narayan, who was the UN-US correspondent of The Hindu earlier, pointed out that half a dozen Bills have been passed on visa-restrictions by the US Congress in recent times, including the one proposed by an Indian-American Congressman. All of it flowed from Trump’s campaign-theme, “Buy American, Hire American” aimed at creation of more jobs, especially those lost in middle America, and also the increasing concern about the abuse of H1B visa, and did not involve other forms of visa, he clarified. In less than a week of Trump taking over as President, Senator Chuck Grassley moved the “H-1B and L-1 Visa Reforms Bill”, to prioritise American workers in job-recruitments and restore fairness in visa programmes for skilled workers, by eliminating the existing lottery system and limiting H1B visas per company. Dr Narayan said Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren who represents the Silicon Valley, introduced the “High Skilled Integrity and Fairness Bill of 2017” by seeking to fix a minimum wage of $130,000 for H1B Immigrants, which resulted in wobbling the stock market. Congressman Jason Chaffetz and Senator Mike Lee introduced the “Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017”, which puts a cap on the number of immigrants per country, based on the ‘first-come-first-served’ basis. “End Outsourcing Act” introduced by Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, Joe Donnelly and Kirseten Gillbrand ensures that federal contracts are awarded only to companies hiring American workers. Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue have sought to lower immigration year by year with 50 per cent reduction through the “Reforming American immigration for Strong Employment Act”. Indo-American Congressman Ro Khanna’s Bill aims at ensuring that American workers are not replaced by immigrants by fixing minimum wages through the proposed “H1B and L1 work visas reforms”.

Illegal migrants

The Indian problem is that a one-million strong force is entering the labour market each month, looking for jobs. In STEM subjects, namely, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, higher education in the US is a dream for many Indian students. Fake CVs too are created for some of these students by agencies in the US, leading to a sudden closure of ‘universities’ and creating a huge problem for all stake-holders. As Dr Narayan pointed out, there are about 300,000 illegal Indian immigrants in the US. On top of this, technology grows exponentially, and takes away millions of jobs. He pointed out that Indians are the largest recipients of these visas, and are not necessarily working for Indian-owned firms.  There is thus an argument inside the US that the nation stands to gain by encouraging Indian immigrants. The case of top Indian CEOs of successful American corporate are often cited in this regard. The giants of Silicon Valley such as Google and Microsoft and also such others as Walt Disney hire a large number of Indian workers on H-1B visas. Nevertheless, the top recipients of H-1B visas used to be Indian IT firms such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro, he pointed out. Viewing the big picture, Dr Narayan said the crackdown appears to be one salvo in an arsenal of protectionism that the Trump administration is rolling out and sparking fears of other barriers in the future to trade and investment, including goods and services. As the Trump administration struggles to cope with unrelated crises such as the failure of the ban on immigration from seven Islamic nations, failure to quickly repeal and replace ‘Obama-care’, and the ever-threatening FBI investigations into the President’s past ‘Russian connections’, there may be a temptation to tighten the screws on skilled-worker visas simply to offset the view that no accomplishments have been made. Dr Narayan added that 100 major Indian companies have created more than 91,000 jobs in the US, by investing $ 15 b in a wide range of sectors across 35 American states. On other hand, India faces a shrinking job- market abroad, not only in the US but also in Gulf, the UK, Australia and Singapore. He questioned the ‘Protectionism vs Globalism’ arguments being put out by several global governments. If it impacts world-wide, the question would be asked if it owed to the Trump initiative now. In this context, Dr Narayan argued that the denial of H-1B visas to Indian skilled labour should not be a matter of serious concern for India and Indians. Pointing out that the overall American visa regime does not affect other categories of visa-seekers, Dr Narayan said when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets President Trump for their first meeting later this month, the visa issue could become a bargain-chip for India seeking US support for the NSG membership and such other geo-strategic concerns. This report was prepared by S Sivanesan, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai
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