Trump’s H-1B visa ban won’t make America great again

| Updated on June 23, 2020 Published on June 23, 2020

It will not translate into more employment opportunities for local Americans. On the contrary, such a move will hurt US tech giants who will be hard-pressed to fill key job positions

Tightening visa rules has become a predictable feature of Donald Trump’s presidency. Over the last four years, there have been several tweaks of the H-1B visa rules, making it harder for Indian techies to land their dream US job. Trump believes that banning non-immigration work visas will help American citizens get jobs at a time when unemployment has hit record levels in the US. But his latest move to ban H1B visas — albeit temporarily — is flawed, as it does not take into account the ground realities related to the gap between jobs available and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills that exist in America. While there is no denying that Indian IT services companies and engineering graduates have been the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visa programme over the last two decades, the fact of the matter is that there are not enough US citizens with the required STEM skills for the available jobs. A recent study by a think-tank founded by former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry M Paulson revealed that only 20 per cent of the world’s top artificial intelligence researchers come from the US. An analysis of Bureau of Labour Statistics’ Current Population Survey by the National Foundation for American Policy states that in the 30-day period ending May 13, 2020, there were over 6,25,000 active job vacancy postings advertised online for jobs in common computer occupations, including those most common to H-1B visa-holders. At the same time, unemployment rate for computer occupations declined from 3 per cent in Jan-2020 to 2.5 per cent in May-2020.

Therefore, a ban on H-1B visas will not translate into more employment opportunities for local Americans. On the contrary, such a move will hurt US tech giants who will not be able to fill key job positions that help deliver critical services to American citizens. The ban will also not have any major impact on Indian IT companies, as they have been reducing their reliance on H-1B visas. Tougher visa rules have already forced many large Indian IT services firms to change their business models and switch over to new transformational platforms like robotics, artificial intelligence and automation. Indian engineers are also gaining from this shift, as companies are investing in reskilling their existing workforce to match the requirements of the new technology platforms, helping them to find more meaningful projects in Bengaluru instead of implementing an enterprise resource planning software for a client in Chicago.

The ongoing economic lockdown due to Covid-19 has further disrupted the way IT companies function, as more than 85 per cent of the IT workforce currently works from home. This radical shift away from a centralised architecture is here to stay even after the lockdown ends. This further reduces their dependence on H-1B visas, as onsite delivery of services will not be relevant in the new work environment. Americans and US companies will be the biggest losers due to Trump’s actions.

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Published on June 23, 2020
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