Shringla puts into perspective importance of legal immigration

India’s Ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla speaking at the Wilson Center, in Washington, DC., on July 23, 2019. Photo: Indian Embassy.

NEW YORK – There are another 10 debates to go before the Democratic Party finally chooses their nominee to take on President Trump, but immigration is shaping up to be one of the crux issues that could likely decide the fate of the 2020 presidential polls.

The Trump Administration has tried hard to curb immigration levels. It’s a moot point whether their initiatives are successful or not, with the borders being breached daily by ever increasing number of illegals.

One thing’s clear, though: legal immigrants, including foreign students who graduate from American universities and attempt to join the workforce, have become as much a reviled subject and favorite target for conservative, anti-immigration hawks, as the issue of illegal immigration.

Despite several remarks in the past by Trump that America welcomes highly skilled foreign workers with open arms, and that America wants to move towards a merit-based immigration system, subsequent actions by the Department of Homeland Security, and some other moves in the pipeline to stifle work permits for skilled foreign residents awaiting permanent residency, have not been in tandem with that line of thought.

It was, thus, heartening to hear some of the Democratic Party nominees expound their views on legal immigration, on the national stage, last night.

Frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden made it clear that he was against decriminalizing illegal immigration, but all for to expand legal immigration for skilled workers to contribute to America’s growth and economy.

“…I proposed, significantly increasing the number of legal immigrants who are able to come. This country can tolerate a heck of a lot more people. And the reason we’re the country we are is we’ve been able to cherry-pick from the best of every culture. Immigrants built this country”, said Biden.

Biden also made a case for instant Green Cards for students who do a doctorate in the US.

“Anybody that crosses the stage with a PhD., you should get a green card for seven years. We should keep them here,” he said, adding, “We are a country of immigrants. All of us. All of us. Some here came against their will; others came because they in fact thought they could fundamentally change their lives … That’s what made us great.”

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard also endeared herself to immigrants who hope to become voters someday by saying, “I think it’s important for us to fix our legal immigration system and look at the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country who have been suffering as they’ve been living in the shadows. And instead of putting a band-aid on this problem, fix our legal immigration system to provide them with that pathway to legal residency or citizenships, that they are no longer treated as second-class citizens in this country.”

Indian ministers have of late stopped commenting on immigration issues in the US, especially on the H-1B visa front, what with Trump having declared a ‘tariff war’. Indian politicians likely deem it as a risky issue to broach upon, risk more diplomatic ire from Trump.

But last month, India’s Ambassador to the US, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, speaking at a roundtable hosted by the Wilson Center, in Washington, DC, put the focus squarely back on how beneficial foreign workers are for America’s growth, and job creation.

In his remarks at the talk entitled ‘America’s Highly Skilled Workforce, the Talent Pipeline and H-1B Visas’, hosted by the Wilson Center in partnership with NASSCOM, on July 23, Shringla pointed out the Indian IT industry has been an important stakeholder in promoting and supporting stronger bilateral business relations between the two countries.

He talked about how some of the major Indian IT companies have invested billions of dollars across many states in the US, contributed to the competitiveness of global operations of US companies, and supported hundreds of thousands of direct, indirect, and induced jobs here.

Shringla pointed out contributions by Wipro included involvement in the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in September 2017; partnership with First Book; investments in 14 US-based startups and venture capital funds since 2015; and its expansion of Science Education Fellowship Program in April 2018 to three additional universities in the US.

Talking of TCS, Shringla pointed out how the Bengaluru-headquartered company pledged $500,000 support to American Red Cross for disaster relief; and its education initiative in 2017 called “My Future in School”, that goes much beyond its business operations.

“This was recognized by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper when at the time of TCS expanding its Denver operations in August 2018, he cited and I quote ‘Their (TCS) work to support tech education for young people impacts many students in our state. Opening an office here will no doubt strengthen their programs and our workforce for years to come’”, said Shringla.

Infosys’ partnership with Trinity College on Applied Learning Initiative in September 2018; Mindtree’s $2 million grant to Stanford university in July 2018; Tech Mahindra’s technology and analytics partnership with the Jacksonville Jaguars to provide next generation digital technology expertise such as artificial intelligence and advanced analytics in August 2018; and HCL being named “outstanding employer in North Carolina” in 2015, were all covered by Shringla.

At a time when rhetoric against legal immigrants in some conservative and right wing leaning media has become sharp and vicious, Shringla put the matter in perspective by saying that “the movement of highly skilled Indian professionals in the US, through programs such as the H-1B visa, has been a mutually beneficial partnership which should be nurtured. There is a long history of foreign professionals coming to the U.S. and contributing to America’s economic success. By helping develop new products and services, engaged in cutting-edge research, and serving as enablers for US companies to expand their client base, H1B visa users create jobs for American workers.”

While pointing out that trade between India and the US has grown from $20 billion to $142 billion since 2000, Shringla also focused on the fact that Indian students are the second largest foreign student population with over 200,000 active students, 85% of them pursuing STEM education. He said studies have shown that Indian students contribute over $7.5 billion to the US economy.  Students in the US who go on to work in H-1B visas also spur innovation and entrepreneurship, he said.

While it’s easy to sway public opinion by targeting legal immigrants, creating rank fear that they take away jobs from American workers, the fact of the matter is that 71 percent of Silicon Valley’s techies were born outside of the United States.

Silicon Valley is what it is today because of the contribution of foreign tech talent, and creation of jobs by foreign tech talent.

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




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