The much vaunted “flat world” of Tom Friedman is under threat in many parts of the globe and nowhere more than in the original capital of the free world, the United States of America. With non-tariff trade and immigration barriers being erected all over the world and President Trump making aggressive moves to fulfil his “Make in America” and “Bring jobs back to America” promises, the scenario seems to be fairly bleak for India’s many hopeful US residents.
The most recent salvo fired by the Trump Administration in the US is the amendment to the Labor Condition Application (LCA) that has come into force from November 19, 2018. This requires prospective employers of people entering the US on H-1B visas to disclose all intended places of employment including any proposed short-term assignments and a large amount of information on the company status including identification of secondary entities and locations and the number of H-1B visa workers currently employed in the firm and at third-party works sites of the firm. While one could argue that this is only a demand for more disclosures, the increased paperwork required will become a further deterrent for companies already concerned at the substantial delays and high rejection rates in visa applications to work in the US.
Another deterrent for middle and senior-level professionals seeking to work and build careers in the US is the introduction of legislation by two US lawmakers that seeks to revoke the work authorisation given by the Obama Administration to spouses of H-1B visa holders. The permission given to H-4 dependent visa holders to work while their spouses were employed in the US had made it feasible for career-minded spouses to seek gainful employment. This group of over a hundred thousand people, largely women, would be seriously challenged if this revocation actually happens.
A positive development in this regard has been the letter sent by 130 senior lawmakers to the Secretary of US Homeland Security asking that the decision of the previous administration should not be rescinded. The subsequent assurance provided by a US Citizenship and Immigration spokesman that the rule-making process is still incomplete and a new economic analysis would be a determinant in the final decision should give a boost to the tens of thousands of bright and highly employable people who would be potentially adversely affected by this reversal.
Even if the Administration were to ignore the adverse impact on families, on purely economic grounds, the arguments in favour of letting these talented people work in the US are many. Most of the spouses in the US are extremely well qualified and more than capable of getting and outperforming in highly skilled vocations. Nipping their promising careers in the bud could well deny American employers the opportunity to add substantial productivity to their work force. And it is almost inevitable that in a world where two jobs in a family are useful in building a better lifestyle and opportunities for children, this could sow the seeds of marital discord and even result in some spouses deserting the H-1B holder and returning to their country of origin to seek gainful employment and an identity for themselves.
For the Indian tech sector, the increased tightening of opportunities to send manpower to the US to staff critical positions has led to three tactical steps – local hiring, subcontracting and a mitigation in the efforts to sell an American dream. Local hiring started on a significant scale a few years ago and rightly so since it is only appropriate that jobs in a country where the business originates are offered to citizens and residents of that country where possible, rather than getting temporary staff from India or elsewhere. Today, local hiring has moved from anecdotal levels to tens of thousands with centres of Indian companies springing up in many parts of the US. Sub-contracting to local and Latin American firms have also commenced and professionals are also being recruited from Mexico and Canada through the TN visa category, which has the potential for indefinite renewal and are easy to procure and process.
Hundreds of thousands of young Indians, who for decades had seen the American dream, have realised them through the vista of opportunities that the H-1B visa and subsequently the H-4 visa gave to them and their families. In families around the country, fortunes have been re-written by children in the US and they have also added greatly to the success of companies in the US, initially in the tech sector and today in all sections of the economy. Will any administration not see the immense value offered by the Indian diaspora in the US and thwart its continuing contribution and success? President Trump, we are glad you choose to celebrate Diwali in the White House but now the time has come to make the great land of America truly inclusive and “keep America great” by being the beacon of opportunity for the whole world that it has always been!
The writer is chairman of 5F World. He also chairs Social Venture Partners India and has been the chairman of Nasscom
With non-tariff trade and immigration barriers being erected all over the world and President Trump making aggressive moves to fulfil his “Make in America” and “Bring jobs back to America” promises, the scenario seems to be fairly bleak for India’s many hopeful US residents.