US needs to give up its belligerence on H-1B and L1 visas

The Trump administration’s paranoia against Indian technology professionals must stop. Unless this American belligerence on H-1B and L1 visas is given up, taking the Indo-US bilateral partnership to stratospheric levels may only remain a pipedream. At a time when the Indian government and IT industry have been campaigning for relaxation in restrictions, the Trump administration seems to have worked in the reverse mode by slapping additional restrictions on visa extension cases as well.

Nobody would object to a nationalist policy of providing job opportunities to Americans by the Trump administration in sync with the Republican Party’s electoral promises. Restlessness and underemployment amongst youth in US would work against the very values for which India has stood thus far. Hence, it’s a basic right that American youth demand to be employed. This America-centric approach seems to have paid off for the Trump administration, given that the unemployment rate has fallen to a 16-year low of 4.2 per cent in July-August this year.

Against this backdrop, fresh restrictions on even extending H-1B and L1 visas that hitherto happened in the ‘default mode’ is most distressing and ‘unfriendly’ given that Indian technology professionals have contributed handsomely to the American economy and its prosperity. It’s rather surprising that the US administration has forced Indian professionals to prove their relevance when H1B visa holders go for renewal on expiry of their documents. A ridiculous mandatory review has been slapped on cases where there is a change of assignments in companies or even while being shifted from one to another department within the same company. Earlier, the draconian provisions to seek fresh clearances for renewals with the burden on visa holders were non-existent. Bringing about protectionist elements and restricting free movement of talent belies the basic tenets of a free market economy that has been espoused by successive US administrations run by Republican or Democratic parties. Both parties have from time to time sought to needle India with the H1B and L1 visas dangling like the proverbial Sword of Damocles.

Interestingly, if not surprisingly, the new norms have kicked in at a time when commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu is packing his bags for the US to deal with the vexed visas issue. These new norms were notified at a time when US secretary of state Rex W Tillerson is in India for the first time and was busy seeking a deal worth $15 billion for supply of F16 and F18 aircraft. Only a day before the new restrictions were slapped, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and foreign secretary S Jaishankar had flagged the visa number issue and restrictive provisions in its non-resident visa policy. Scaling up the talent pool with improvement in skills for American youth that makes them readily employable should be the priority for President Trump and not setting up fresh walls of separation for Indian knowledge workers. At one point of time, remember, President Obama had even asked US students to measure up in terms of talent vis-à-vis Indian professionals. Indian politicians will have to realise that global trade is a ‘big bazaar’, where each country has to mobilise all resources at its command to protect its offensive and defensive interests.