By Neil Munro
President Donald Trump should use his February 24-25 visit to India to help companies export more Indian college-graduate workers into U.S. white-collar jobs, says an Indian trade group run by Indian and U.S.-Indian companies.
The trade association, dubbed NASSCOM, “is lobbying the two sides to treat the movement of skilled Indian workers under the H-1B scheme as a trade issue, asking that it be separated from the president’s broader concerns about immigration to the US,” according to a report in Financial Times:
“We’re at a loss trying to figure out why we’re seeing the kind of discrimination when this is actually benefiting the US,” Ms Ghosh said, arguing that Indian workers help to fill a vital skills gap in the country.
“We just have one request to [our Indian] government, which is — talk to him, make him understand the importance of high-skilled talent mobility,” Ms Ghosh said. “We have to ensure that he understands that this cannot be treated the same way as immigration — they’re two different things. That’s our biggest ask.”
The outsourcing industry group is essential to the Indian economy, in part, because it helps to keep one million Indian graduates in U.S. jobs sought by U.S. graduates.
Many of those jobs are well-paid jobs in management and recruiting throughout Silicon Valley, allowing the Indian graduates to insert other Indians into the U.S. technology, banking, insurance, health care, and human resources industries.
In turn, much of the money flows back to India, creating a huge export surplus for India’s economy, which can be used to buy U.S. goods and services.
“U.S. goods and services trade with India totaled an estimated $142.6 billion in 2018. Exports were $58.7 billion; imports were $83.9 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade deficit with India was $25.2 billion in 2018,” according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “U.S. imports of services from India were an estimated $29.6 billion in 2018, 4.9% ($1.4 billion) more than 2017, and 134% greater than 2008 levels. Leading services imports from India to the U.S. were in the telecommunications, computer, and information services, research and development, and travel sectors.”
The Indian NASSCOM companies are complaining that Trump’s deputies have curbed the award of H-1B visas to the group’s Indian companies. But Trump has done little to stop U.S. and Indian managers at other U.S. companies from using H-1B visas and OPT work permits to recruit Indians instead of Americans.
In response to lobbying by the Indian CEOs, the Indian government weakly suggested the H-1B issue might be discussed with Trump. NDTV.com reported February 20:
The issues related to the H-1B visa may come up during bilateral talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Donald Trump next week, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said today. He said five memorandums of understanding are under discussion and could be signed by the two sides.
The likely exclusion of the H-1B issued from a near-term trade deal is also a defeat for many Indian political groups in the United States, dubbed the “Non-Resident Indian” groups. AmericanBazaarOnline.com reported February 18:
Sharmishta Dutt, a 33-year-old homemaker in Philadelphia, came to the US three-years-ago on a an H-4 visa for dependent spouses after getting married.
Every morning, these days, she carefully pores over the newspapers to read everything about President Donald Trump’s February 24-25 visit to India. “I try to read everything including business and foreign affairs pages to learn about the topics that will be discussed by the two leaders during this visit,” she says.
However, she is disappointed that there is no word about immigration reforms in the US, especially for the highly qualified H-1B community that is suffering because of the green card backlog, on the agenda of Trump’s summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We would have really appreciated if Modi had also planned to discuss about the NRI community in the US and the problems they are facing,” Dutt said.
The H-1B Indians are a core element of Indian’s economic and diplomatic strategies. “The flow of talent is part of our economic cooperation,” India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in December 2019:
It is in a sense almost strategic bridge between us. So, I cannot overstate the importance of the flow of talent for Indo-American ties. That was a point I make that look, this is important for you, it is important for us. It’s important for the relationship. So let’s work together to make sure this stays sort of open and vibrant and active.
In fact, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes a point of repeatedly visiting foreign cities where Indians are employed to keep the “NRI” community tied to India. In 2015, Modi visited the Indian population in Silicon Valley, and in September 2019, he brought Trump to a stadium in Texas where hundreds of Indian organizations had assembled 50,000 Hindus at a “Howdy Modi” show of strength.
Trump shows no evidence that he will take that H-1B-imports-for-U.S.-exports deal before the 2020 election, in part, because it would be a colossal break of faith with his voters.
“It would be a terrible idea for President Trump to sign a trade deal with India that gives them H-1Bs — as many as they want — in return for the grain and oil deals,” said Marie Larson, co-founder of the American Workers Coalition, which represents the many American graduates whose careers and salaries are being slashed by the Indian outsourcing. “He would be selling out the middle class … Once you take those jobs from Americans, you can’t get them back.”
“Congress has made clear to the administration that they should not be negotiating immigration policy as part of trade deals,” said Rosemary Jenks, policy director at NumbersUSA. “The idea that immigration policy would be set to benefit a foreign country is absolutely absurd — our immigration policy should only be used to serve the needs of the United States.”