The new US administration proposes to overturn Trump’s stringent immigration policies and replace it with the modern, humane US Citizenship Act, 2021 that will make it easier for the technology sector to recruit Indian professionals for positions in the US.
New US President Joe Biden, who had pledged a more liberal visa regime if elected to the White House, has begundelivering on this promise – among several others – within hours of being sworn in as the 46th Chief Executive of the United States of America (USA).
This will help soothe nerves in New Delhi and in the Indian IT sector, both of which were waiting to see whether Biden moves proactively to remove what had emerged, under ex-President Donald Trump, as a major irritant in the otherwise robust India-US bilateral relationship.
Media reports said he proposes to send a new immigration bill to the US Congress that does away completely with the caps imposed on each country by the Trump administration. This move will benefit the $150-billion Indian IT industry and hundreds of thousands of Indian IT professionals both in the US and in this country.
The proposed US Citizenship Act, 2021 promises a modern and humane immigration system that will help keep families together, help the US economy grow and retain its technological edge and also upholds US’s status as the last refuge for people fleeing political, religious and sectarian persecution across the world, various media reports said quoting unnamed incoming White House officials.
"The bill clears employment-based immigration backlogs by reducing those backlogs altogether and eliminates the per country cap. It makes it easier for graduates of US universities with advanced degrees, in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields to stay in the US. It also improves access to green cards for workers from the low wage sectors,… It also eliminates many of the unnecessary hurdles for employment-based green cards. The bill also includes the No Ban Act that prohibits discrimination based on religion and limits presidential authority to issue future bans," one report said.
Indian IT professionals are big beneficiaries of the US’s H1B and L1 visa programmes that allow technically qualified individuals to obtain permits to enter and work in the US. The H1B, in particular, is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in jobs that need expertise that is not readily available in the US.
Nasscom, the apex body of the Indian IT industry, estimates that there are currently about 130,000 Indian IT professionals working in the US. These professionals fill critical gaps in US companies and enable them to retain their global competitiveness in a wide range of industries.
This is particularly important at a time when the US is facing a serious challenge from Chinese companies in the technology sector. US technology companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook, Google and others hire thousands of Indian professionals every year on these visas.
The new law will, therefore, be very beneficial to the Indian IT sector as well as professionals working in the sector.
The Trump administration had, since June last year, severely restricted the issue of H1B and other professional category visas and projected this as a move to save American jobs. This main grouse was that these foreign workers charged far less than US citizens and so, were responsible for rising unemployment in America.
This argument flew in the face of evidence to the contrary and the move was widely excoriated by the US and Indian technology sectors.
“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,” Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, tweeted soon after the Trump administration order suspending H1B visas was issued.
The proposed new law will also come as a huge relief to Indian IT professionals as the Trump administration’s orders had severely restricted the entry of their spouses and children into the US and had also seriously curtailed their right to find employment in that country.
Immigration and trade are the two remaining friction points in the otherwise robust Indo-US bilateral engagement that has seen an almost total congruence in areas such as geo-politics, the vision for the Indo-Pacific region, counter-terrorism and the need for free and open navigation rights for all across the world’s waterways.
Once the proposed new law enters the statute books, it will remove a major point of discord in bilateral ties, help both economies grow faster and help cement the growing cooperation across sectors between the Biden administration in the US and the Modi government in India.