Free Press Journal

Indian immigrants on tenterhooks


US President Donald Trump’s first year in office has been a mixed bag for India. Though the apprehensions which he evoked at the start of his innings are still lingering in many minds for good reason, there is a measure of satisfaction in India over Trump’s tough stance towards Pakistan.

While Trump’s arch-rival Hillary Clinton was better known in India since she had served under Barack Obama as secretary of state, Trump was an enigma whose real stand on issues is yet to unfold. Trump promised to work with India bilaterally and in global forums if elected, but there were many imponderables. His strongly-protectionist outlook made it seem as though immigrant Indians would have a hard time under him.

With a sizeable Indian immigrant population, especially in the software sector, a large section of them well qualified and highly skilled, there was a deep foreboding that Trump’s assumption of office would not augur well for Indians. That apprehension persists today. That many Indians started to look for alternative jobs in other countries including Australia, New Zealand, UK, among others, and many prepared to pack their bags to return to India was undeniable.

A year down the line, apprehensions remain while there is a level of uncertainty that is unnerving. Every time there is talk of visa restrictions and the American administration seems to take two steps towards it while the Trump administration is rumoured to come down hard, it back-pedals and neutralises the grim foreboding partially.

Perhaps, this is because industrial interests in the US have made it known that an exodus of highly-skilled Indians would rob the US of extraordinary talent and render, particularly, the software sector crippled. As it happens with immigrant communities worldwide, the locals do not work as much as immigrants  do because that is the way to go for them as they seem vulnerable and have to sweat it out for survival.

Considering that a whopping, 1.8 million jobs have been added in one year of Trump, the American youth cannot but exult over the fact that while immigrants are being squeezed, that is making more jobs available for them in the American system. If these youths and the working class in the US were the backbone of Trump’s voter base in the presidential polls, through protectionist measures, the US president is pandering to their requirement quite cleverly.

It is this aspect of creation of jobs in which Trump has stolen a march over Narendra Modi, though on many other yardsticks the latter comes out a winner. But, Trump began his stint as President on expectations that were undeniably low while Modi rode to power on unrealistically high expectations. In the longer term, expectations from Trump would rise and meeting those would be a herculean job.

The recent controversy over moves to curb extension on H-1B visas in the US has disturbed Indian immigrants considerably. An estimated five lakh workers from India are expected to be hit if this proposal comes through. Interestingly, India and China accounted for 82 per cent of H-1B visa recipients in 2016. Of the five lakh Indians expected to be hit, 22,000 are slated to be techies.

It is small wonder then that Indian immigrants are increasingly looking for other visa forms like O-visas meant for those with ‘extraordinary ability’ in various areas or EB5 visas for those investing in the US. Homemakers, who are studying in the US on spouse-dependent visas are also in a state of flux in the regime of Donald Trump and many of them have headed to the countries from which they migrated.

All in all, there are grim forebodings for Indian professionals except the highly skilled ones. There has been a silver lining for H-1B visa holders with the US administration clarifying that they are not considering a regulatory change that would compel them to leave the country after the six-year limit. But, the breather is only for one year at a time. How the threat to Indian immigrants would shape up in the rest of Trump’s term in office remains to be seen, but with the shortage of skilled technical hands turning acute already with lack of Americans equipped to fill in, the immigrants may well have the last laugh.

While the Trump administration’s attitude towards Indian immigrants would certainly be a factor in judging Donald Trump’s acceptability to Indians in the US, what has gladdened Indian hearts is the stopping of all American aid to the rogue state of Pakistan for hoodwinking and diverting American aid over the years to avenues other than fighting terror. Past US administrations had threatened to cut off all aid to Pakistan in an act of muscle-flexing, but they fell short of carrying the threat through. This time around, the Trump administration apparently means business.

The Pakistanis on their part are blowing hot and cold. While their foreign minister, Khwaja Muhammad Asif, is cocking a snook at them, bragging about their China connection, other leaders are seeking to appease the Americans.

The restrictions placed on public donations to terrorist outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawah of Hafiz Saeed is a result of American arm-twisting. But, training of terrorists in Pakistani camps continues, arming them and sending them into Kashmir for subversion is in full swing while the US looks the other way. It is all this that makes Indo-US relations under Trump a mixed bag – some tangible gains and the rest gains that may prove illusory in the medium and long term.

The writer is a political cmmentator and columnist. He has authored four books.