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The H-1B conundrum
A new legislation intends to check H-1 B related frauds
Guest post by Madhu Nair
Ever since the 2008 economic crash, Americans have been accusing the H-1 B visa as an instrument used to steal their jobs. The United States is battling a high unemployment rate and the voice for a pro-American job policy is increasing day by day. With critics crying foul over the provisions of the policy and its abuse by technology majors, America’s H-1B visa policy has run into troubled waters.
According to a recent report, Senator Chuck Grassley, a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has introduced a legislation which aims to eliminate fraud and abuse of the H-1B visa policy. The legislation intends to make reforms to increase enforcement, modify wage requirements and ensure protection of visa holders and American workers. Grassley says that the legislation will not only benefit American workers, but also help U.S. companies to get quality specialized workers from abroad.
Grassley adds, “Somewhere along the line, the H-1B program got side-tracked. The program was never meant to replace qualified American workers, but it was instead intended as a means to fill gaps in highly specialized areas of employment. When times are tough, like they are now, it’s especially important that Americans get every consideration before an employer looks to hire from abroad.”
The legislation, if passed, may affect jobseekers from India and elsewhere. The recently passed H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2013 ensures that an H-1B application filed by a company employing 50 or more U.S. workers will not be accepted unless the employer attests that less than 50% of the its workforce are H-1B and L-1 visa holders. This, in addition, to the legislation introduced by Grassley could mean trouble for companies who seek cheap and quality workers, largely from developing economies. A recently published article had also highlighted that many of the H-1B hires do not belong to the “best and the brightest” category. This further pushed the need to reform the policy which has gained a political face of late.
With a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas a year, Indian companies were seen scrambling for approvals with over 50,000 applications being filed on the very first day of screening. Market analysts say that the cap on visas and other such compulsions will impact the margins of companies adversely. The increasing unemployment has also forced companies in the U.S. to take to sub-contracting and local hiring. This further adds pressure on companies to take to other means in order to achieve their ambitions.
While a short-term impact looks imminent, it would be better to come out with options to avoid such situations in the future. The global economy changed remarkably after the 2008 crisis with the world turning towards developing economies to pave the path ahead. India, with its growing young and abundant workforce, has an edge over other countries in reaping the benefits. But it would be rather cynical to neglect developed economies while doing so. The only way forward is to find a middle ground where countries can work together for a sustainable future.
The Desi Factor in U.S.-India Relations
According to a new Gallup survey, more than two-thirds of the U.S. public has a positive impression of India, a score that even edges out Israel’s traditionally-high favorability rating. This is the latest indicator of how decisively American perceptions about the country have changed. Not too long ago, India was regarded as the very epitome of what the term “Third World” meant – decrepit, destitute and pitiable. Yet in a relatively short period of time, the popular view of India has changed in critical ways.
For many decades most Americans were inclined to the views of President Harry S. Truman, who dismissed India at its birth as an independent state as “pretty jammed with poor people and cows wandering around streets, witch doctors and people sitting on hot coals and bathing in the Ganges.” His Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, had an even more incisive perspective: “by and large [Indians] and their country give me the creeps.” When Daniel Patrick Moynihan was U.S. ambassador to India from 1973-75, he regularly lamented that Washington was utterly indifferent to the country’s fate; writing in his diary, he confided that it “is American practice to pay but little attention to India.” In a cable to the State Department, he complained of dismissive attitudes, “a kind of John Birch Society contempt for the views of raggedly ass people in pajamas on the other side of the world.”
Public opinion kept close track with official attitudes in Washington. Harold Issacs’s classic 1958 survey of U.S. elite opinion, Scratches on Our Minds, revealed that influential Americans held very negative perceptions of the country, associating it with “filth, dirt and disease,” along with debased religious beliefs. A State Department analysis prepared in the early 1970s found that U.S. public opinion identified India more than any other nation with such attributes as disease, death and illiteracy, and school textbooks throughout this period regularly portrayed it in a most negative light. This view was again underscored in a 1983 opinion poll, in which Americans ranked India at the bottom of a list of 22 countries on the basis of perceived importance to U.S. vital interests.
So, what accounts for the significant shift in perceptions? An obvious part of the answer lies in the dramatic turnabout in Indian prospects launched by the 1991 economic reforms. For all the attention lavished on China these days, Jim O’Neill, the progenitor of the BRICs acronym, contends that India still “has the largest potential for growth among the BRICs countries this decade.” A recent Citibank report concludes that India will likely be the world’s largest economic power by 2050 and, according to International Monetary Fund data, India supplanted Japan as Asia’s second-largest economy last year. President Obama routinely points to Bangalore as a threat to America’s competitive advantage while Lawrence H. Summers, his former chief economics adviser, touts the virtues of the Indian development model. And the jugaad concept, once seen as a sign of backwardness, is now viewed as an innovative approach to business management.
Another prominent piece of the explanation lies in U.S. admiration for India’s durable democratic traditions. The concept of democratic India had particular appeal to George W. Bush, who engineered a remarkable transformation in bilateral affairs. Robert D. Blackwill, who served as Bush’s first ambassador to New Delhi, recalls asking Bush as he geared up his presidential campaign in early 1999 about his special interest in India. Bush immediately responded, “a billion people in a functioning democracy. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that something?”
But a less obvious, though equally important, factor is also at work: The increasing stature of Indians in American society has changed how all Americans think about India. Consider the following examples:
- The election of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley to the governorships of Louisiana and South Carolina (respectively), states in the heart of the Old Confederacy.
- The entertaining television ad Intel ran a few years back lauding the rock star status of Ajay Bhatt, the co-inventor of the USB computer connection.
- The ubiquitous presence of Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. In 2003, he was named as one of the world’s sexiest men by People magazine and a “pop culture icon” by USA Today. And in 2009 he was mentioned as President Obama’s choice as Surgeon General of the United States, the country’s top public health official.
- The winner and the two runners-up of last year’s national spelling bee were Indian-American children. It was the fifth consecutive year, and the tenth time in the last 14 years, that an Indian American won. The top four positions in the 2012 National Geographic Bee were also Indian-American kids.
- Last summer witnessed a high-profile Desi clash– the successful prosecution on insider trading charges of Rajat Gupta, McKinsey & Company’s former chief executive and an iconic figure in the Indian diaspora, by Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney responsible for Wall Street. Bharara was named last year to TIME magazine’s roster of the world’s 100 most influential people and Bloomberg Market’s “50 Most Influential” list.
Large-scale Indian migration to the United States did not begin until the late 1960s and though the community remains relatively small – less than one percent of the overall U.S. population – it is one of the country’s fastest-growing ethnic groups. But the community’s growing success has given it an influence and impact wholly disproportionate to its size. As one analyst puts it, “Indians in America are emerging as the new Jews: disproportionately well-educated, well paid, and increasingly well connected politically.”
According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 70 percent of Indian immigrants to the United States have at least a college degree, compared to the national average of 28 percent, and Indians lead all other Asian sub-groups in income and education levels. This finding echoes another PRC study that Hindu Americans possess the highest socio-economic accomplishments of any U.S. religious community.
Indians have become a driving force on the U.S. business landscape. According to a new Kauffman Foundation report, Indian immigrants established one-third of Silicon Valley start-ups in 2006-2012, up from about 7 percent in 2005. Indeed, Indians founded a markedly greater number of engineering and technology firms than did immigrants from other countries, including those from China and the United Kingdom. And a RAND Corporation study reports that Indian-American entrepreneurs have business income that is substantially higher than the national average and higher than any other immigrant group.
The success and prosperity of the Indian community has had a real impact on U.S. foreign policy. First, it has helped change public opinion on India in relatively short order, since it is difficult to dismiss or disparage a country that has produced immigrants who have become so rapidly admired in U.S. society.
Second, the growing impact of the Indian American community catalyzed stronger interest about India on Capitol Hill beginning in the mid-1990s, helping in turn to reverse Washington’s traditional disregard of the country – recall, for instance, how the U.S. ambassador’s post in New Delhi was vacant for the Clinton administration’s first year. Pro-India caucuses in the U.S. Congress played an important role in the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions levied against India in the wake of its 1998 nuclear tests, and in securing the ratification of the landmark U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement a decade later. Today, a third of the members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives belong to these caucuses.
Third, the Indian-American community has been at the forefront in building critical societal linkages between its native and adoptive countries. Consider, for example, the dynamics at work more than a decade ago. At the same time as Washington was imposing sanctions in response to the 1998 nuclear tests, concerns about the “Y2K” programming glitch led businesses on both sides to set the foundation for today’s strong technology partnership. The significant role played by these societal bonds leads Fareed Zakaria to compare U.S.-India ties to the special relationships the United States has with Great Britain and Israel. And Shashi Tharoor, formerly India’s minister of state for external affairs, has likewise remarked that “in 20 years I expect the Indo-U.S. relationship to resemble the Israel-U.S. relationship, and for many of the same reasons.”
Although they are often overlooked by national policymakers, non-governmental ties fostered by the Indian-American community will be one key in securing the long-term growth of the new bilateral partnership. As Shivshankar Menon, now Prime Minister Singh’s national security advisor, remarked a few years back, “[I]f anything, the creativity of [American and Indian] entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists has sometimes exceeded that of our political structures.”
This commentary is cross-posted on Chanakya’s Notebook. I invite you to connect with me via Facebook and Twitter.
Aneesh Chopra to run for Lt. Governor of Virginia
Aneesh Chopra, the country’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) appointed by President Obama, recently announced his plans to run for Lt. Governor of Virginia. Among the most prominent Indian-Americans in U.S. politics today, Aneesh Chopra had been strongly supported by USINPAC to facilitate his appointment as the CTO. As he begins his campaign for the new office, USINPAC once again pledges its wholesome support to his efforts.
The son of immigrant Indian parents who worked hard to achieve the American dream, Aneesh Chopra is an example of the caliber, dedication and hard work of the Indian-Americans. The community’s growing participation and importance in American politics is personified by the likes of Chopra.
Chopra is uniquely placed to work on some of the most important issues such as health care that face the people of Virginia. Having previously worked in the health care sector, he has studied and understands the working of the health care system in Virginia as well as in the US. He has worked extensively on the Medicaid and believes that the health care system should be upgraded to improve the quality and lower the costs. His record in improving education during Gov. Kaine’s administration had been impressive and promising and portends innovative solutions to Virginia’s educational challenges.
Aneesh Chopra, during his previous stint as the CTO “helped design the President’s National Wireless Initiative, including the development of a nationwide public safety broadband network, establish a set of Internet Policy Principles including the call for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, and led the implementation of the President’s open government strategy focused on unlocking the innovative potential of the federal government to solve problems and seed the jobs and industries of the future.” He looked for ways to engage people in using technology, such as electronic health records for veterans, access to broadband for rural communities, and modernizing government records. Prior to being the CTO for President Obama, Aneesh Chopra led the charge in Virginia and was noticed by the President for the work he did. Commenting upon his work in Virginia, Eric Schmidt (Google) said, “Aneesh built one of the best technology platforms in government in the state of Virginia.”
Today, as more and more Indian-Americans seek elected office and participate enthusiastically in the political process, USINPAC understands that more work is required to bolster and inspire these young Indian-Americans. Over the past 10 years, USINPAC has untiringly supported several Indian-American candidates for local, state and federal office. The support has been an elaborate involvement in the candidate’s campaigning process and included organizing fundraisers, awareness drives and grassroots activities to maximize the candidate’s reach. Prominent names among those elected, who were supported by USINPAC, included Ami Bera (only Indian-American in the U.S. Congress today), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana Governor), Nikki Haley (South Carolina Governor), Kumar Barve (Majority Leader, Maryland House of Delegates), Kamala Harris (California Attorney General) and Swati Dandekar (former Iowa Senate member).
As Aneesh Chopra works on his campaign for the race of Lt. Governor of Virginia, USINPAC wishes him well and looks forward to working with him towards his election.
Obama 2: Diverse aspirations coalesce
Guest post by Ambassador Neelam Deo, Director, Gateway House
It looks like winning is all that matters in the first-past-the-post system in the U.S., so much so that it does not matter precisely how President Obama won a second term as the President of the United States. But his narrow victory with a lead of only 2% of the popular vote, out of a voting public which has declined from 131 million (in the 2008 election) to 117 million, reflects the disenchantment and polarization of the electorate.
Winning may well turn out to have been the easy part. The President has to work with the relatively unchanged Congressional configuration – the cause of the paralysis in decision-making in the past few years.
Obama must move quickly to dispel the disappointments of his first term which made the election such a nail biter- disappointments both at home in America and abroad. For that he must craft an agenda that is adequately bipartisan to win over enough Republicans in the House and Senate to pass legislation addressing the country’s growing annual budgetary deficit, the massive national debt and the stagnant economy to generate more employment at home so that the American economy does not continue to be a drag on global growth.
President Obama has won an important victory with more than 30 Electoral votes to spare, partly because of the superb fund raising and mobilisation of votes that became his hallmark in 2008. Obama also benefited from the gaffes of his challenger – particularly remarks Romney made disparaging 47% of voters as non tax-paying Obama supporters and therefore not worthy of Republican attention. This may have ensured that 60% of the young, especially the unemployed who had sympathized with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, voted Democrat.
The changing American demography works in favour of the Democrats. In particular, Obama won the support of 70% of Hispanics, whose percentage in the population has grown from 9 to 10 in just the last 4 years. He did this by introducing legislation that enabled the children of illegal immigrants to be entitled to such benefits as scholarships for education and move ahead in the queue for citizenship.
At the same time, the Democrats cannot overlook the fact that Caucasians still make up 73% of the electorate, but only 38% supported Obama. This, despite 55% of all women voting Democrat, though only 42% of white women voters were among them. Obama would have received even less white support if not for the rampant misogyny of Republican plans to curb the right to abortion, receive free contraception. This, along with the Republican castigation of victims of rape repelled many women, especially the highly educated.
Despite Obama’s massive financial infusions to rescue investment banks and big business in general, the corporate sector supported Romney and more importantly massively funded his election campaign. Some balance was provided by the support for Obama of well known and respected businessmen such as Warren Buffet and Hollywood celebrites such as Bruce Springsteen who contributed funds and made appearances at his rallies. Together both candidates have spent upwards a whopping $3 billion in this election.
As expected, African Americans voted overwhelmingly in favour of the President despite the knowledge that their problems remained largely unaddressed in a stagnant economy. Still the more inclusive rhetoric of the Democrats on social issues including gay marriage pulled in those votes. The President’s sincere and efficient response to the devastation caused by Super storm Sandy won him support even from committed Republicans. Most intriguingly Obama won 69% of the Jewish vote despite the menacing tone of the Israeli President and Romney’s hard line position on Iran’s nuclear programme.
The non-voting rest of the world is relieved that a Romney breathing fire and brimstone against Russia, China, Iran, and Syria is not in charge of the mighty American military and economy. Apart from the comfort of the familiar, Obama has won respect for being steadfast in the face of unseemly pressure from the Republicans and Israelis and American Jewish lobbies. Now he must be some more steadfast by refusing to blatantly interfere in Arab affairs while genuinely promoting the Israeli- Palestinian peace process.
India will be interested to see how a new Democratic administration functions in Asia, especially in fleshing out and implementing the “pivot to Asia”, under a Secretary of State other than Hilary Clinton who has already announced her departure. While there is some unease about the exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, India can also take comfort from a more realistic American appreciation of the fragility of the power structure in Pakistan which should preclude indulgence of terrorist activities against Indian targets.
A more positive agenda also awaits the two countries in the nuclear, defense, trade and education areas. This is also an opportunity for Government of India to infuse new energy into the bilateral relationship.
(This article originally appeared at Gateway House and has been republished with their approval. All views mentioned in the article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or positions of USINPAC in any manner.)