Arun Jaitley shouldn’t lobby for Indian IT companies, instead welcome H-1B visa reforms

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US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Indian Embassy in Washington.

NEW YORK: Finance minister Arun Jaitley made headlines on the first cabinet-level interaction between India and the Trump administration, in Washington, DC, for the wrong reason: reports said Jaitley “strongly raised” with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “concerns” over President Donald Trump’s executive order to reform the H-1B visa program. India is on the wrong track: it should welcome Trump’s decision to reform the H-1B visa reforms, not lambast it.

India should be pragmatic, lend support to a festering immigration issue in the US which has more loopholes than a mosquito net. There have been numerous cases of immigration fraud by Indian nationals and Indian Americans, documented instances of inappropriate use of work visas like H-1B and L1, business and tourist visas, by some top Indian IT companies.

The way some Indian IT companies have blatantly used a process termed as ‘knowledge transfer’- by taking on contracts which entailed sending workers on H-1B visa to snatch jobs from American workers – is likely the topmost reason for calls by US lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill for legal immigration reforms, especially the much maligned H-1B visa.

Indian IT companies are to be blamed for this stupidity of theirs. The ‘knowledge transfer’ contracts smacked of terrible lack of foresight, of blindly lunging forward for short-term profit without realizing the grievous repercussions for themselves in the long-run, not gauging how it would incense the American public, galvanize a protectionist like Trump to catapult to victory in the presidential elections.

Ironically, respect for Indian workers and what they bring to the table in the US has come a full circle, if one were to look at the popular CBS’s 60 Minutes program: in 2013, they ran a segment entitled ‘Imported from India’ which focused on the brilliant output from the IITs to America, contributing to entrepreneurship and innovation. Four years later, in 2017, CBS ran a segment ‘You’re Fired’, targeting the Indian IT companies and abominable ‘knowledge transfer’, how H-1B visa tech workers take jobs away from American workers, throwing the spotlight on the deeply shameful act of an American worker having to train his replacement foreign worker in office under the threat of losing severance pay.

Indian IT companies and the Indian government forgot one basic and plain fact: the H-1B visa program is meant to be used wisely by American companies to hire skilled foreign labor to complement their work force, with salaries on par with industry standards. The H-1B visa program is not meant to displace American workers, used and abused to hire foreign labor on lower salaries, to maximize bottom line.

By batting and lobbying for India’s private tech industry, including biggies like Infosys, TCS and Wipro, and raising the contentious issue of immigration reforms – the backbone of Trump’s election campaign to help American workers, the resultant slogan of “Make America Great Again’ – Jaitley got nothing in return, except a polite diplomatic snub from Ross which suggested, ‘yes, thank you, we are on top of this issue, but please mind your own business’.

Ross is understood to have told Jaitley that ‘whatever the outcome of the review process, the Trump administration’s objective is to have a merit-based immigration policy that gives preference to highly-skilled professionals’, said a report by PTI’s Washington correspondent.

What Jaitley should do instead, is to broach the subject of immigration reforms to help Indian workers who are already here on work visas in the US, those who are waiting a decade and more for a Green Card. He should demand the US government look to assuage the mental anguish of such workers, not let country ‘quotas’ hurt their chances to get permanent residency, when they do their immigration overhaul.

Jaitle should ask Ross why should an Indian citizen wait indefinitely for a Green Card while citizens from other countries get it immediately when they are sponsored by an American company?

Although a federal court recently dismissed a lawsuit by an anti-immigration group to revoke a 24-month Optional Practical Training extension for STEM F-1 visa students, Jaitley should bat for students from India who invest to study in the US, ask his counterparts to ensure that their interests are taken care of once they finish their programs and not be thrown out of the country with no chance for being hired in the US after graduation.

In all likelihood, the minimum salary for H-1B visa workers is going to be raised to at least $100,000. The question is, how many non-tech students from India would be able to get employment in the US after they graduate?

The world is not made of only STEM-related professions.

Jaitley should also ask demand answers on when the US and India will finalize a Totalization pact on social security taxes. The US is within its right to introduce new laws that target foreign workers adversely, but the Indian government should bat for Indian workers on work visas who are forced to leave after working for less than 10 years in the US. The US should pay these workers all social security taxes and Medicare taxes that they took out over the years.

The Indian government should also realize that in the long run, the decision by US, Australia, Britain, Singapore and New Zealand, among others, becoming protectionist and reducing the number of Indian tech workers allowed in, would actually benefit India.

For long, India’s biggest concern has been lack of innovative entrepreneurs who can create global brands domestically, like an Apple or Microsoft. Brain drain is the reason. If more talented young people are forced to stay in India and create businesses, India would be the winner in the long run.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter: @SujeetRajan1)