“I am totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney... I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labour programme,” U.S. President-elect Donald Trump had said in one of his campaign meetings earlier this year, specifically talking about an incident in which Indian workers replaced American workers at the Disney amusement park in Florida.
Senator Jeff Sessions, a staunch opponent of the H-1B visa programme, was the only Senator who had the chance to appear with the President-elect at his early morning victory speech on Wednesday. “What a wonderful man,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Sessions.
H-1B visas are run under a Congressional mandate and the executive cannot arbitrarily make changes in them. But a Trump presidency raises concerns about what the future holds for potential visa seekers and immigrants from India, since he has made immigration and visa regulations a centrepiece of his politics.
Puneet Ahluwalia, a Washington DC-based lobbyist who was a member of Trump campaign’s Asia Advisory Committee, says Indian IT companies will have a big role to play in the new President’s economic agenda.
“Mr. Trump is a pro-business guy. The U.S. wants to keep its competitive technology edge in the global market and will require talented folks in that sector. H1 B visa is the legal way of importing talent into our nation. It will be important that Indian technology companies look in U.S. rural areas and create opportunities,” he said, adding Indian companies might require to align with the new President’s political priorities. “They can assimilate a lot of semi-skilled workers into jobs that can be done from their homes, in the U.S.”
Adds Sampat Shivangi, a Mississippi-based doctor and a delegate at the Republican National Convention: “Trump has not ever said that he will not allow immigration or people coming in. He has said he will stop illegal immigration. Immigration of skilled workers will not be affected by a Trump presidency or a Republican Congress.” Now, if ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ are the operative words, there could be some trouble there. Because H1-B regulations are meant to bring in talent that is not already available in the U.S., and that is always a tricky thing to establish. Critics have always accused companies of misusing the programme to ‘illegally’ displace American workers.
But several U.S. courts, including one last month on the Disney case, have ruled that H-1B workers can be hired at lesser salaries than previously existed.
Stephen Bannon, Mr. Trump’s campaign chief and potentially an official in the new administration, is a strong opponent of the H-1B programme.
In a 2015 interview with Mr. Bannon, Mr. Trump, who was then one of a dozen Republican presidential aspirants, had said he “felt strongly” that job creators should be allowed to come to the U.S.
“We have to create job creators. One man went to Harvard, did well, but was not allowed to stay, went back to his home in India, started a company, which is now a very successful company with thousands of employees. We have to be careful about this. We have to keep the talented people in this country,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Snapdeal founder Kunal Bahl, though the details were wrong. Mr. Bahl did not go to Harvard, but to University of Pennsylvania.
All told, the increase in cap of the H-1B — currently 65,000 annually — as many American and Indian companies have been arguing for several years, is unlikely to happen.
It is unlikely that a Trump administration will want such a route, and such a proposal may not get enough support from members of Congress. It is unlikely to be cut either. But the companies will be under pressure to use those visas more creatively to fit into the Trump political agenda.
At the same time, a future immigration policy of the U.S. will encourage more foreign students to pay and study STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — in the U.S, by promising them an easier route to permanent residency.
This article has been corrected for a factual error.