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What is the impact of Donald Trump’s immigration ban on skilled workers from India?

The story so far: With the toll of the novel coronavirus on the American population spiralling rapidly, and political pressure increasing on the country’s leader to take effective action to bring the pandemic under control, United States President Donald Trump announced on Monday, on Twitter, that he would be using an executive order to suspend legal immigration into the U.S. for 60 days. The White House has indicated that the time limit could be extended depending on conditions on the ground.

Why has Mr. Trump taken such a step?

The immediate context of his proposal is the teetering U.S. economy, which, like many others across the world, has ground to a virtual halt in the face of the pandemic. The deeper context to the announcement is the fact that Mr. Trump is seeking re-election in the November 2020 election against the presumptive Democratic nominee, former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden. Proposals to restrict immigration served Mr. Trump’s campaign well during the 2016 presidential election, particularly when they were situated in the context of protecting jobs for U.S. workers.

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What does it mean for visa applicants?

The order is not expected to halt visa processing for many thousands of temporary employees, including a sizeable number of Indian nationals in the H-1B skilled worker category; agricultural workers classified under the H-2A visa; and seasonal workers, who fall into the H-2B category.

Second, according to the White House, the policy will also likely carve out exemptions for certain categories of essential workers, including those in health care and who have a critical role to play in fighting the pandemic.

Third, exemptions are also being made for those who seek to immigrate via their immediate relatives. This includes spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens applying for green cards, or permanent residency. Also, those who have already been granted permanent residence will not be impacted by this executive order.

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Fourth, members of the armed forces, those who are immigrating for law enforcement reasons and are already in the pipeline, and those on the EB-5 programme, which requires individuals to invest at least $500,000 in U.S. real estate projects, will be considered.

Beyond these exemptions, there is a broader question of how many jobs that could potentially be taken by incoming immigrants will be saved for out-of-work U.S. workers. The number of unemployment claims filed since the pandemic started eating into the U.S. economy is now over 26 million. According to some analysts, out of the million-plus green cards that the U.S. issues annually, approximately 358,000 could possibly be impacted by the pause in immigration processing for the duration of the proclamation. The gap between these two figures is nothing short of gargantuan, and it begs a question of motive behind the executive order.

Could there be any impact on skilled workers from India?

On tourism, there is little concern at the present juncture given that India has stopped commercial flights owing to the risks of coronavirus spread. Numerous airlines across the world have also suspended operations and have cancelled flights across the board. Further, in many countries, quarantine procedures apply to international arrivals and this will dissuade many visitors from international travel. Finally, the U.S. State Department announced in March 2020 that it would be suspending all routine visa processing at its consulates and embassies abroad; this has not only dampened the pace of visa issuance but it has also slowed legal immigration considerably. As a comparator, more than 9.2 million visas were issued at U.S. diplomatic missions abroad last year.

When the worst phases of the pandemic have passed in the U.S. and India, there could be a resumption of air traffic and international visitors may have the option to travel to the U.S. once again. But presently, there is no visibility whatsoever on when such conditions might emerge.

So far as skilled workers seeking the H-1B visa are concerned, similar conditions apply. U.S. visa issuance in all countries, not only in India, has ground to a halt. This has left many H-1B visa-seekers in the lurch in India, and that could have an economically debilitating impact on the Indian IT and Information Technology Enabled Service (ITeS) sectors. However, this derives more from the overall impact of the pandemic, and not from Mr. Trump’s immigration ban.

How will it affect U.S. politics?

Given the minimal impact on net jobs saved for U.S. workers, there is a real question regarding whether the ban was conceived of as a genuine policy measure or whether it is a diversionary tactic to mask the Trump administration’s failure to save more lives, and to bolster the President’s sinking political standing.

If the latter case applies, then this executive action has already set the tenor of the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Immigration was a divisive issue in 2016. A Trump-driven encore for immigration issues in 2020 could well polarise American society further and lead to an acrimonious campaign season.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 10:42:01 AM |

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