Trump Administration’s restrictive move on H-1B visa could be disruptive, but futile

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NEW YORK – There’s been virtual pandemonium among immigrants with work visas, lobbyists for tech service companies, and Democrat politicians, since a McClatchy Bureau report came out earlier this week which said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering new regulations that would prevent H-1B visa extensions, aims ‘self-deportation’ of those whose Green Card applications have been accepted.

“The proposal, being drafted in memos shared between DHS department heads, is part of President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” initiative promised during the 2016 campaign,” said the McClatchy report.

The report said the administration is specifically looking at whether it can reinterpret the “may grant” language of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act to stop making the H-1B extensions.

“The idea is to create a sort of ‘self- deportation’ of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans,” said a U.S. source briefed by Homeland Security officials, said the report.

This piece of disheartening news for those on H-1B visa comes on the heels of the devastating news that those H-4 visa holders who had a work permit, an EAD, would soon have to give up their right to work, be confined to the sidelines of the jobless, unemployed, and pitiful, their graduate and doctorate degrees be damned.

If the hundreds of thousands of H-1B workers and their family members, who prefer to live in the US, rather than head back to the country of their origin sense this new move by the DHS guided by the puppeteering hands of the Trump Administration were to actually come about – and reports say as many as 750,000 to 1.5 million in total workers and family members, mostly Indian nationals, could be deported – feel like a stranded deer caught in the headlights of a giant truck bearing down at a manic speed, they have every right to feel so.

Make no mistake about this: this is a calculatedly draconian move by the Trump Administration, meant to be disruptive, create chaos to the entire H-1B visa system; the system of hiring foreign workers, and arm-twist the companies who hire such workers on these visas.

President Trump, whose popularity rating is on the up since tax reforms, is playing true to his base. Although it’s only a memo at this stage, the DHS has made its intention clear: start a war against immigrant skilled workers on H-1B visa, and their families. Banish Brown folks, seem to be the new motto.

With this move, Trump has played his hand: he doesn’t care for the brilliant Indian engineer hired by Google, who could create a new cutting-edge company someday, or the fantastic researcher/doctor next door waiting for his Green Card, and could one day win the Nobel Prize.

The only people Trump cares about in his quest for immortality through his legacy is his base of ‘deplorables’, those men and women in the Republican flank who feel the country is being overrun by people of color, who ‘take’ away jobs meant for white folks and their white children.

Here’s the bigger danger in all this, even if this memo targeting H-1B workers remain an unfulfilled wish, bogged down by lawsuits and ultimately fail to come to fruition – there is surreptitious brainwashing being done here, like a bright paint job on a rundown house.

The animosity to foreigners, and skilled workers is beginning to build up. With an economy on an upsurge, White America may well come to the conclusion that Trump is right on the mark; nobody of color, on a visa, should be allowed to work in the US.

In time, enough Americans may buy into Trump’s core logic: ‘Buy American, Hire America’ means to generate business with White folks, create businesses for White folks, and hire white folks for businesses.

Now, here’s the good, bad and ugly truth behind this memo that’s floated in the DHS.

The good news: it’s highly unlikely it would ever become law, since unlike an executive order that Trump can overturn in a flash, to bar H-1B holders from getting an extension would require an act of Congress.

The bad news: Trump needs only to disrupt the system, create panic, to achieve partial success. The DHS is within its rights to not grant extension beyond the initial three years for an H-1B visa, and even if it does so for another three years, or one, or two, as the case may be, they are again legally allowed to either reject an extension, or to ask for onerous amount of paperwork and proof to show eligibility.

The ugly news: hundreds of thousands of lives could be in limbo, the quality of life suffer, diminish if this war over the H-1B visa goes into a court of law. Like the travel ban on Muslims from some countries, the Supreme Court may ultimately side with the Trump Administration on the issue of not granting extension to H-1B visa.

For now, immigrants on H-1B visas should also worry about the fact that the Indian government has kept mum on the issue; not a single tweet on the issue expressing anger or disappointment over the issue, has been voiced.

NASSCOM, the industry lobby for India’s IT sector, is aghast. They are trying to keep calm by reasoning that the US needs H-1B workers, and ultimately will see reason in their argument.

“The US has a big skill gap. Out of the 2 million vacant STEM jobs, 1 million are in IT related areas. All these measures, mostly political and emotive, aren’t changing the skills gap and will hurt the American economy. All these factors have to be kept in mind by the US administration,” Nasscom President R Chandrasekhar told The Times of India.

Fact is, NASSCOM doesn’t understand Trump. To their consolation, most people don’t either.

It’s pointless to try and reason with sane arguments after NASSCOM have at periodic intervals showered data to show how many jobs Indian companies have created in the US. Nobody cares in the Trump Administration for such data, somebody needs to tell them.

Democrats are also voicing dismay, but it’s not going to change anything, at least for now as the memo does its rounds for business later this year.

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said, according to a PTI report, “imposing these draconian restrictions on H-1B visa holders will tear families apart, drain our society of talent and expertise, and damage our relationship with an important partner, India.”

“This proposal could lead to the deportation of an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 Indian H-1B visa holders, many of whom are small business owners and job creators who are helping to build and strengthen our US economy. This brain drain will stifle innovation and decrease our ability to compete in the global 21st century economy,” Gabbard said.

Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi said the move would kneecap American economy and encourage companies to further offshore jobs, reported PTI.

“I hope the administration immediately rejects this proposal,” he said.

California Congressman Ro Khanna said the proposal was “anti- immigrant”.

“My parents came here on green cards. So did Sundar Pichai, Elon Musk, Satya Nadella. Trump is saying to immigrants and their kids we don’t have a place in America. It’s not just wrong. It’s dumb. Mr. President, would America really be greater without us?” he asked in a tweet.

As angst builds up, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) has come up with sobering prediction on Trump’s policies on immigration: this is just the beginning. Things are going to get much worse, they say.

Pointing out to the fact that the US government has made 12 major immigration reforms since January 2017, an MPI report said that more actions can be expected from the administration and it may significantly change the nation’s immigration policy.

The MPI prediction apart, what really stands out in the memo which intends to target H-1B visa extensions, is the absurdity and lack of intelligence of it all (except for the disruption part of it).

Consider this: the goal is to have an H-1B holder who has been here in the US for six years, not be given an extension, be sent home, or ‘self-deport’, if a Green Card has been filed, with the assurance that he or she can come back with family after the Green Card is approved. With falling immigration numbers, and assuming that Trump is able to stop chain migration and the Diversity Visa Lottery, resultantly applications for Green Cards likely to fall to record abysmal levels, the clogged pipeline will suddenly become unclogged. So instead of having to wait for some 12 years for a Green Card, that H-1B holder who is sent home after six years, may get a letter in mail after a year, while he is vacationing in India, that his Green Card has been approved. Presto! The ‘self-deported’ H-1B holder now makes a grand flight to the US with his family as a permanent resident.

Consider also this scenario: all the top Indian IT companies, like TCS and Infosys, still are able to get the H-1B workers they need, but will stop filing for a Green Card. They will just shuffle them around, after every six years. Only American companies who wanted skilled talent will scrounge for workers, as most workers would rather go to the UK, Europe or Australia, Canada, rather than be given an opportunity to work for only six years in US. In time, these US companies will outsource their jobs to India, get workers there. Net loss of jobs would be for the US. Other companies will follow suit.

Here’s another scenario to mull on: with the H-1B jobs prospects hitting a wall – if the Trump administration disrupts the system more through RFEs (Request for Evidence), the international student population would shift base from the US to other developed countries, who treat them with more respect, and are willing to give equal rights. Like the UK just did by making it easier for foreign graduates to get jobs. Many US colleges and universities will plunge into debt and shut down shop.

The Trump Administration may finally realize at some point: it’s easier to paint white a house that has fading brown paint, than actually change the demographics in a similar way, at the cost of tearing the house down.

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

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