What’s good for the goose on H1B visas can be goose sauce for India. Hysteria is uncalled for
lndia, it has been clear for years now, needs a cogent policy that while allowing her skilled workforce to reap the benefits of an inter-linked, globalized economy, also prevents the hemorrhaging of talent to the West, especially the US,as brain-drain. Policy makers in New Delhi also have to get their head around the basic fact that the primary unit of global interaction, whether bilateral or meltilateral, is very much the nation-state with each according primacy to its own interests.
It is in this context that the entirely legal and above the board proposal by US President Donald J Trump to amend the rules so as not to extend the H-1B visa of those waiting for permanent residency (green card), which if implemented is likely to send between 5,00,000 to 7,50,000 highly skilled Indian professionals a majority of them in the IT sector back home, needs to be seen. I n fact, it needs to be seen as an opportunity for India to gets it act together; indeed, we join Anand Mahindra, Chairman of the Mahindra Group, to say that in the event of such an influx – “Swagatam Welcome Home. You’re coming back in time to help India Rise.”
The issue, in its essence, is rather simple: The US Department for Homeland Security believes that it is in the American national interest to prevent H-1B visa extensions as part of President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” initiative promised during the 2016 campaign. Under the current law, foreign guest workers are allowed one three-year extension of the H-1B visa of three-year validity. If at the end of those six years, the guest worker has a pending green card application, then there is an almost indefinite extension of the H-1 B visa till such time the applicant’s green card processing is complete. So, thanks to the backlog of green card applicants, hundreds of thousands of highly skilled workers from countries such as India can spend up to 12 years in the US even without a green card. This is the lacuna in the rules, from the Trump administration’s perspective, it is looking to fix by proposing that if an H-1 B visa holder has applied for a green card at the end of his six years, then s/he will have to exit the US till the processing is complete.
This is entirely unexceptionable and the hysteria sought to be generated in some quarters, complete with hand wringing over the fate of future Satya Nadellas and Sundar Pichais, as it were, who have used the H1B path to acquire green cards, is entirely misplaced. For, it must be kept in mind, that the H1B visa was introduced by the US at a time when it felt it was in its national interest to address the shortage of workers in certain highly skilled categories and not meant to be a route to a green card and subsequently citizenship. Now, the Trump administration has assessed, despite opposition by the East Coast liberal establishment and a section of US industry fixated on its bottom line, that the foreign worker inflow needs to be curtailed as part of its effort to keep US jobs for Americans.
As for the argument that the US economy would suffer as a result, let’s let the Americans worry about that. What India needs to do, in the national interest, is to ensure that those the US keeps out find opportunities in their home- land.