US President Donald Trump’s order suspending H-1B, H-2B, L-1A, L-1B and J-1 visas has largely affected Indian immigrants. Indians get 70 per cent of the 85,000 H-1B visas every year, a majority of them in the IT sector. No sooner was this decision announced than Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted: “Immigration has contributed immensely to America’s economic success, making it a global leader in tech, and also Google the company it is today. Disappointed by today’s proclamation- we’ll continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all”. It is said that the basic models of IT companies would undergo a change and cost mapping would be hit. Trump’s order will not only hit the IT sector in the US but also in India. India’s business in the IT/ITES industries, which is to the tune of $190 billion, will be largely affected. Of the 3,88,403 H-1B visas issued during 2019, 71 per cent were given to Indian workers.
The US in June 2019 withdrew the generalised system of preference trade privilege, which had been granted to India in 1976. It has also imposed restrictions on charter flights from India, accusing India of discriminatory practices. The discriminatory orders issued by the Trump administration came despite the growing Modi-Trump friendship, seen during ‘Howdy Modi’ in Houston last year and the ‘Namaste Trump’ rally in Ahmedabad in February.
Also, it is inhuman of Trump to include H-4 (spouses of H-1B workers), H-2B (low-skilled workers), J (cultural and education workers) and L-1 (intra-company transfers) in the ban.
Indian diplomacy in recent times has been falling off a precipice, particularly with its major allies and trade partners like the US, Russia and Israel, apart from known adversaries like Pakistan and China. We are also failing in our diplomacy with neighbours Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. India’s diplomatic relationship is now at the lowest ebb.
In the last five years, the number of H-1B visas issued to top Indian IT services providers has gone down drastically, and it is estimated that it has declined to more than 60 per cent. The national consciousnesses of our rulers in Delhi has not been shaken despite the massive blow delivered to the youth of this country. There is an urgent need for India, which has grossly underestimated both friends and foes, to overhaul its diplomatic policy.
It is also quite surprising that big players like Wipro, HCL, Infosys and Tech Mahindra have not spoken out against the move, both here and in the US.
It is ultimately our own IT graduates who are affected, as companies have already reduced their dependence on H-1B visas over the years and taken recourse to employ more employees from the US. They seem to be more interested in furthering their business opportunities in the US than in providing employment to the Indian youth. The lukewarm attitude of the Government of India and the ministers concerned is also shocking and discouraging.
Time to act
Karnataka was a pioneer of the IT/ITeS industries during the 1970s. The State government had established the Electronic City in Anekal Taluka, which attracted the biggest IT companies from the US Silicon Valley to India and also nurtured indigenous IT companies like Wipro, Infosys, and HCL. International Technology Park Limited (ITPL), which was established in collaboration with Singapore, further strengthened the IT/ITeS industry. Bengaluru came to be known as the Silicon Valley of India, and also created a cradle for indigenous Indian IT industries.
American multinationals from the Silicon Valley thrived in the 1980s, the 1990s and later years. Big Indian IT firms also prospered at Electronic City. It is unfortunate that they do not look back at their past with gratitude!
With the suspension of the H-1B visa, Bengaluru has been badly affected, as many IT graduates from Karnataka flocked to the Silicon Valley and also created a gateway for establishing their firm’s bases at Bengaluru and other major cities in India. Even though the IT companies in India were well prepared for Trump’s suspension of H-1B visas, they will face trouble given the present Covid-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions.
Indian IT companies should step up and fight for the cause of IT graduates in India. Even the present Chief Minister of Karnataka has failed to rescue the IT graduates who are deprived of employment opportunities in the US by taking up the matter with the Prime Minister.
The writer is the former Union Minister of Law and Justice