Move to withdraw work permits for spouses of H1-B visa holders is likely to hit over 70,000 professionals

Engaging with US President Donald Trump on investment, trade and services relations has turned out to be a big nightmare for even his close partners. India is no exception to the mad rush with which Trump seems to have gone about implementing his poll promises and agenda to bring ‘American jobs back home’ and ‘Be American – Buy American’. Those slogans brought him the votes of the ‘core white with blue collar jobs’ but alienated the sub-origin, Asian and African origin American voters.

The US President’s policies towards working expatriates or professionals holding valid US visas is impulsive and borders on arrogance. How else does one explain many of his restrictive measures with particular reference to H1-B visa holders? A series of measures announced over the last one year have hit foreign technology professionals, especially Indians, working for US companies. In doing so, the Trump administration seems to have ignored the contribution of Indian professionals to US companies and American economy, adding to their technology advantage and making them price competitiveness.

The move to withdraw work permits for spouses of H1-B visa holders is likely to hit over 70,000 professionals who are competitive, qualified, creative and multi tasking workers. While about 100,000 spouses with H-4 visa were allowed to pick up work beginning 2015, fifteen senators and Congressmen have taken it upon themselves to put these hardworking individuals out of work. Silicon Valley lawmakers have opposed the Trump move but White House seems hell bent on going ahead. Most interestingly, top US IT conglomerates like Facebook and Google have apparently opposed the new restrictions. Democrats under President Barack Obama had allowed deserving, qualified and experienced the spouses to pick up work. The reasoning behind such a move was to enable spouses to pitch in with earnings while the US administration put its house in order and cleared the applications for permanent status of the H1-B visa holders that took more than ten years in the majority of cases.

India will have no option but to oppose this latest non-tariff barrier that would hurt the interests of Indian professionals in the US. Trump may have to realise sooner rather than later that these restrictions will not translate into new work opportunities for US citizens because small and medium enterprises in the US may not be in a position to sustain high wage costs that hiring white American professionals will entail. Skill sets mismatch is bound to adversely impact the technology services offering and thereby the profitability of US companies.

In the last one year, the Trump administration forced companies to ensure that the H1-B visa professional was placed at a third party location on non-speculative, specific and specialty assignment. This was in continuation with earlier orders to triple visa fees or not extend temporary visas of workers. Like China hit back with tariff barriers worth over $50 billion to $ 60 billion in new taxes, India may have to consider retaliatory measures to keep Trump’s adventurism in check.

Increasingly, the US seems to be getting isolated globally on both merchandise and services exports that was also reflected at the WTO ministerial conclave held in New Delhi last month. The latest set of measures contemplated by the US may, in effect, be ‘diversionary’ in nature to changing American trade and investment environment that is repressive and repulsive. Having completed over one year in office, the US President will have to settle down and firmly identify friends and foes of America.