India Went All Out for “Namaste Trump”. In Return, We Get a Freeze on H1-B Visas


India Went All Out for “Namaste Trump”. In Return, We Get a Freeze on H1-B Visas

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

In April this year, US President Donald Trump issued an executive order that banned the entry of foreign workers in the country for 60 days. As that period draws to a close, the Trump administration has extended the ban, as well as suspended work visas like the H-1B visa and H-2B visa until December 31. In addition to suspending these sought-after visas, the Trump administration is also planning to overhaul the system of how these visas are awarded, moving from a lottery-based system to one that selects candidates with higher salaries. This is supposed to protect jobs in the US, which is facing rising unemployment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the fields that will be hardest hit by this suspension of the H-1B visa is information technology, especially for Indian companies. Reports state that out of the 85,000 H-1B visas that are given out each year, Indians account for approximately 70 per cent of the applicants. A change in the H-1B visa programme is likely to hit big IT firms such as Infosys, TCS, Wipro and even American giants such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, says BBC journalist Arunoday Mukharji.

Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google and an immigrant himself, expressed disappointment with Trump’s executive order, which he sees as being a roadblock to talented individuals seeking employment in the US. “Disappointed by today’s proclamation – we’ll continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all,” he wrote on Twitter.

While existing H-1B visa holders are not affected at the moment, the announcement is a hurdle for anyone currently seeking a career in the US through this visa. Along with Pichai, companies like Twitter and Amazon also criticised the order, terming it as “short-sighted”.  On social media too Trump received flak for freezing work visas.

In India, critics were quick to point out that “Namaste Trump” and “Howdy Modi” weren’t so much of a success.

Meanwhile, Trump and his administration believe that the suspension of the visa programme will enable more unemployed Americans to find jobs, and that the new regulations will drive up the skill level and wage level of those who enter the country on H-1B and similar visas. “With some exceptions, we should not permit large numbers of foreign workers to enter the United States at a time when so many Americans are out of work,” said an official statement by the White House.

In an election year, the move is apparently aimed at energising Trump’s standing with US voters. As for the many Indians hoping to find work in the US, the closest they will get to anything American this year is February’s Namaste Trump event.