The Trump effect on India: war against H1B visas

The American Dream was a kaleidoscope of hope, the pursuit of happiness, the backbone of the booming American economy in the 60s and 70s. This Dream could be dreamt by any race, religion, nationality; the only precursor to actualisation of which was hard work and tenacity. Trump’s administration’s reforms have been a rude awakening from this dream for many.

Trump’s recent policy reforms aim to overhaul policies that allow companies to bring employees from overseas into the United States.  The current H-1B visa program has been criticized for hurting American workers and undercutting salaries for national recruits. The H-1B visa program was initially created around three decades ago to support companies in recruiting skilled workers from other countries when they couldn’t find sufficient suitable Americans to fill the vacancies.  However, the program has since altered significantly from its original intention.

Companies tend to hire non-American workers on H1-B visas as they tend to be “cheaper” as they are paid less than their American counterparts. The majority of H1-B visa recipients hail from India and China, two of the fastest growing economies in the world. Companies that request H1-B visas tend to be based primarily in the Information Technology and Outsourcing sectors. Lowering overhead capital costs, this model has been continually successful for outsourcing firms and their corporate clients. However, this gain comes at the cost of American workers losing potential employment, and H1-B workers losing basic privileges such as full control over their visas and legal status within the United States accompanied by a ubiquitous lack of security.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Economic, social, and ethical arguments combined with policy reforms against the program have been compounded by the recent onslaught of hate crimes and “bias incidents” against Indians in American cities.

Compounded by this is the significant impact of Brexit on the IT sector, considering that Europe is Indian second-largest market in IT,  along with the apparent slowdown in work permit approvals for Indian techies in Singapore, an important international hub for the sector. “Sadly, what has happened is that these global events have converged in terms of timing and, therefore, it enhanced the total combined impact,” contends Sanjoy Sen, a former Deloitte partner and doctoral researcher at UK’s Aston Business School.

Many Indian professionals are hence considering the very real possibility of relocating to sister countries like Canada, Australia, or even back home to India, itself a booming economy with rampant opportunities. Propelled by the cynical and blurry future of the proposed changes in the H1B visa norms, several recruitment agencies in India have seen an influx of job applications and queries from Indian professionals in the last few weeks. These returning professionals, often armed with top-notch U.S. degrees and gainful experience with large-scale technology firms, bring specialized expertise and fresh perspectives to the already-burgeoning technology sector in India. India’s technology sector is predicted to expand considerably with the “brain gain” of these professionals heading home. The Indian Prime Minister has asked overseas Indians to work for the economic development of the country through participation in various programmes (e.g. Swatch Bharat Mission) or investing in Indian-owned businesses. He has iterated that “foreign direct investment” for him meant “first develop India”. Inaugurating the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Bengaluru on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the government will shortly launch a massive skill development programme – Pravasi Kaushal Vikas Yojna – that would help blue-collar workers gear up for life in the countries they migrate for work. “We are seeing a good number of people in the mid to senior level who want to move back to India or other regions in Asia. But these are mostly sentiment driven now because we really don’t know how things would be implemented on ground,” said Anshul Lodha, associate director, Michael Page India, a search executive firm.

The American Dream is getting selectively blurry, and perhaps it’s time to reimagine our vision for the Dream, slowly starting by clearing our lenses to face a new reality, one kaleidoscope at a time.