US President Donald Trump is indeed serious about his walls. On June 22, 2020, he shut the doors of his country to immigrant employees, a large number of whom are Indians. What does this mean for the thousands of Indians who have been dreaming of working and living in the US?
The executive order
The share of immigrants in the US workforce has grown steadily over the years, from 10% in 1995 to 17% in 2018. The current ban is by far the most rigorous one in the history of the US, a country made by and of immigrants. Applicable only to hopeful immigrants outside the US, the ban covers H1-B visas (specialty occupations such as tech jobs), L1 visas (intra-company transfers), H-2B visas (temporary non-agricultural workers), visas for dependents of immigrant workers, and J-1 visas (exchange students). At least 2,19,000 people will lose a chance to work in the USA.
The reasons cited for this ban are curbing the spread of the Coronavirus and more importantly, providing more jobs to domestic American citizens, about 14% of whom have currently registered as unemployed. This unemployment rate is scary and hasn’t been seen since the Depression. All of this, while the number of Covid-19 cases in the US has been rising as high as 50,000 cases a day on some days.
After serious mishandling of the pandemic and the anti-racism protests by Trump, Democrat Joe Biden has been leading the presidential race for the November 2020 elections. An anti-immigrant policy, which has been at the core of Trump’s ideas since his election, is a strong war cry for him to get re-elected.
How does it affect us?
90% of H1-B visa applicants are Indians. Of all the H1-B holders currently living in the US, a third are Indians. There is also a considerable number of Indian L-Visa holders. Indian software giants like TCS and Infosys send a lot of IT professionals to the US for their projects involving US companies.
There has been a lot of criticism for this move from America Inc., with Indian-origin Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk at the forefront. They are of the opinion that immigrant skills have made the American tech industry what it is today, and that their company ethos doesn’t fit in with the new policy. It is also being argued that there will be a skill gap now which domestic workers aren’t qualified enough to fill.
In December 2019, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had stated, “I cannot overstate the importance of the flow of talent for Indo-American ties...So let’s work together to make sure this stays sort of open and vibrant and active.” Although Trump and Indian PM Narendra Modi have been amical and friendly until now, but this may change things.
Everyone’s becoming atmanirbhar
While India is busy avoiding a war with its neighbours and making a self-reliant economy; the US also is in turmoil, fighting its inner demons, and trying to become self-sufficient. It’s not just these two giants. The extremely united group of EU nations, too, cracked and closed their borders in March. The pandemic has forced the world to relook globalization and interdependence. Europe and Asia are both leaning towards self-reliant economies. With the decrease in movement of goods and the rising hostility towards foreign visitors, this trend is expected to continue. The dependency of India, US, and Europe alike on China for medical products amidst a global mistrust in China has awakened everyone to the dark side of international dependence.
In such a scenario, we might soon have a world where not just the US, but any country’s government or society would be wary of foreigners crossing borders. Perhaps, it’s a time when, whether we like it or not, we all need to do what China has been doing for years — look inwards.
Home is where the growth is
Kunal Bahl, co-founder and CEO of Snapdeal, was an employee of Microsoft in the US, until his work visa got rejected. About a decade ago, he came back to India to foster his startup which today has a valuation of $800 million. He calls his visa rejection a ‘catalyst’ for his success.
In the past decade, at least 10 significant Indian startups have been formed by Indians who came back in the ‘reverse brain drain’ trend. Ever since Donald Trump got elected, Indians in the US have been more and more skeptical about their future in the country, thanks to his stand against immigrants. They cannot quit their jobs which sponsor visas for them, cannot start their own companies, and cannot have side-gigs.
There has been enough talk in the news about the other countries that Indian techies can now target but surprisingly, not much about why they should stay back. As of 2019, India is the 6th largest economy in the world, with a share of 3.2% in global GDP. Rapid urbanisation and an increasing workforce has been giving impetus to tertiary services like banking, investments, etc. In the last 25 years, India has delivered the highest RoE (return on equity) in the world. With its mixed economy, India also offers a diverse sector mix for its skilled workforce. Even in 2017, the average salary paid by Indian tech companies to H1-B holders was greater than the US average. There is great motivation to now divert this money homewards.
In late 2019, the World Economic Forum had published a detailed article titled ‘This Is How India Can Become The Next Silicon Valley’. Thanks to ‘Jiofication’, we are now the second most connected nation in the world, with 560 million internet users. We are also the third-largest startup ecosystem with a whopping 26 startups valued at more than $1 billion each.
More importantly, India is one of the rare nations for which the International Monetary Fund has projected a positive GDP growth this year (1.9%) and an amazing 7.4% for the next financial year, even as the entire world faces a cumulative loss of about $9 trillion. If a new world order is on the cards, India surely has a bigger prospective role to play.
If the government walks the talk on self-reliance and leverages initiatives like Make In India, along with bringing major overhauls in modern education systems, we could look back in a decade’s time and call the immigration ban a catalyst for our homegrown tech success stories.
Snehal is Columnist at GGI.
She is a writer, poet, music aficionado, Oxford comma proponent, and a lot of other things. She also writes on personal finance for 'Qrius Creative Labs'. She has worked as a copywriter, content writer, scriptwriter, creative strategist, and direction assistant at multiple organisations in the past.
Snehal is a graduate from the Bachelor in Mass Media, Advertising from St.Xavier's College, Bombay.