The US may be a nation of immigrants. But, if there is one political topic that always gets Americans riled up, it is immigration. In fact, the Republican National Convention 2016, which begins on Monday, is scheduled to discuss immigration on the first day of the four day programme. Three immigration reform activists will speak on the issue during the prime time session, as will Donald Trump's wife Melania.
The issue looks to heat up as earlier this month, two US lawmakers — Democratic Party’s Bill Pascrell from New Jersey and Republican Party’s Dana Rohrabacher from California — dealt a sharp blow to Indian and US tech industries when they introduced a bill regulating H-1B and L1 visas in the US House of Representatives. The bill, which specifically targets the use of these visas by Indian companies to send talent to the US to work for American firms, has once again brought to the fore America’s attempts to tackle immigration.
Software services companies such as Infosys, Accenture, Tata Consultancy Services, Cognizant and Wipro which have operations in India make liberal use of the provision in US law wherein they can employ Indians to work in the US under the H-1B and L1 visas. The Bill proposes that not only does this take away jobs from qualified Americans but also leads to abuse of Indian workers’ rights.
The H-1B visa programme began in 1990 and made it possible for companies in the US to hire workers from across the world in almost all fields. But nowadays, most applications are for computer engineers and software professionals, reports San Francisco Chronicle. The publication, which crowdfunded a campaign to be able to report on H-1B visas, also states that between 2013 and 2016, applications for these visas increased by 90 percent. In the fiscal year 2014, Indians received 67 percent of H-1B visas issued.
With immigration being one of the key factors that led British voters to cast their ballots for a Brexit, the issue has once again become an important platform for candidates in the US presidential race. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump have both discussed their stand on immigration on their official campaign sites.
According to Clinton, immigration “is a family issue” and not just an economic issue. Immigration reform is needed “not just because it’s the right thing to do—and it is—but because it will strengthen families, strengthen our economy, and strengthen our country.” While she talks about the broken system in general, she doesn’t mention H-1B visas specifically on her campaign website.
However, Trump is a different story. “When politicians talk about ‘immigration reform’ they mean: amnesty, cheap labour and open borders,” his website states. “Any immigration plan must improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans.”
He insists, “The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage.”
It's no wonder then that Trump chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. Pence is one of the many state governors who announced that they will not allow Syrian refugees to be resettled in their state until the federal government assures him that sufficient security measures have been taken in vetting the refugees. According to OnTheIssues.org, Pence had, in 2006, voted to build a fence along the Mexican border in order to stop illegal entry into the US. In 2007, he co-sponsored a bill that wanted English to be declared the official language of the US (the nation doesn't have an official language). The bill failed to get passed. Pence has not made any official comment on H-1B visas but his thoughts have aligned with Trump's in other immigration matters so far.
Trump's plan is manifold but there are two points that specifically target H-1B visa holders.
Trump states on his website that one way to curb unemployment is by increasing the prevailing wage for H-1Bs. This will force the companies to give the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jobs to Americans, instead of hiring the no-longer cheap labour from other countries. That way, more women, blacks and Hispanics will get jobs in the STEM industry. He wants to introduce a rule so that companies that want to hire workers on H-1B will be required to hire American workers first, even before greencards (permanent residence status) are issued to foreign workers.
As Jayant M, an Indian tech worker in California points out, “Clinton only talks about immigration reform from the illegal immigration perspective since she is targeting the Latino voters. The Indian community is not as active in US politics as the Latino community is and politicians have bigger fishes to fry.”
He doesn’t have much faith in Trump being able to bring about any significant change that will affect the Indian community even though he agrees that immigration has been the cornerstone of Trump’s campaign. “Trump is a typical populist politician here; his immigration policies are just like his other ones: talk wildly about things that sounds good in speeches, but make no sense whatsoever and can never be implemented. As far as the Indian tech community goes, if he is elected, I think he will try to reduce the number of H-1B visas, and make the requirements more stringent just because it will be a populist thing to do. It is worth noting that these laws cannot be made by the president directly. Congress has to pass these laws for them to come in effect. Trump will have a hard time getting the Democrats to agree to his proposals.”
Sarita B, who also went from India to the US, believes neither of the two presumptive candidates have sound, workable ideas when it comes to immigration. “It is fair to put American workers first,” she says, but adds, “I don’t think increasing wages for anyone hired through an H-1B is a good idea as companies already pay to sponsor visas of these employees.” As for Clinton’s policies, “As much as I like the thought of giving illegal immigrants a chance to become naturalised through (Deferred action for childhood arrivals) DACA/(Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) DAPA, I’m afraid they will become reasons for more and more people to immigrate illegally.”
Whether the proposed Bill gets any traction or not, the fact remains that immigration will remain a hot topic for voters this US presidential election.