Per Country Limit Bill Continues to Attract Attention

H.R. 3012, “The Fairness to High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” is a small bill, anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 pages shorter than the bills that normally attract a good deal of media attention. Yet H.R. 3012 continues to attract major editorial and news attention.

The bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives 389 to 15, would eliminate the per country limit for employment-based immigrants. That would especially help highly skilled individuals from India and China waiting a long time for green cards. The bill would also raise the per country limit from family-sponsored immigrants from 7 to 15 percent.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page used its powerful voice to call for Senate passage of the bill. “For businesses looking to hire advanced-degree candidates or skilled workers, the end of the cap is a good thing,” argued the editorial. “The 7% solution sought to make the American dream accessible to people from every nation. But today’s reality is that American universities are graduating a high number of foreign-born engineers, computer geeks, scientists, mathematicians and nurses that come from a narrow list of countries. The U.S. will be more prosperous by letting graduates who land jobs stay permanently.” (Find the editorial here, registration may be required.)

But the Wall Street Journal noted the legislation is not the ultimate solution to the employment-based green card problem: “The trouble is that the House bill does nothing to address the real problem: 140,000 green cards a year for advanced-degree and skilled workers is far too few. By refusing to increase the number, or to make a special category of green cards automatically available for American university graduates in science, technology, engineering and math, Congress is again delaying reform that could help the lackluster U.S. economy.”

In an editorial titled “Tinkering at Immigration’s Margins,” the Washington Post also weighed in on the bill, but not as favorably as the Wall Street Journal. “A bill passed by the House of Representatives last month would grant a few thousand more green cards annually to Indian and Chinese engineers, software designers and scientists, mostly at the expense of Korean, Filipino and Mexican engineers, software designers and scientists,” wrote the Washington Post. “Since the legislation makes no overall change in the paltry number of green cards available, hundreds of thousands of highly skilled employees already working in the United States on short-term visas will remain backlogged in the system, in many cases waiting for more than a decade to become legal, permanent residents. That’s what passes for immigration reform in Congress these days.”

Not surprisingly, the legislation has also made news in India. The Economic Times of India took a different tact from its American counterparts, focusing on the impact of current U.S. immigration law on the lives of individuals. (Find article here.) It cited the example of an Indian IT (information technology) specialist who came to the United States in 2003 on an H-1B visa. His employer filed for his green card in 2004 in the third preference and he is still waiting. “He is living in the U.S. under annual extensions of H1B, and every time he leaves the US, he has to apply for advance parole with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, so that he is not stopped from re-entering,” reports the newspaper. “Kumar doesn’t know when his application for green card will become current.”

The article notes it could take another 10 years or more. “Living in such uncertainty is tough. He had started toying with the idea of giving up the green card dream and returning to India. But that was till last week when the U.S. House of Representatives passed ‘The Fairness to High-Skilled Immigrants Act.’”

As of this writing, H.R. 3012 remains held up in the Senate by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). No one can be certain whether he intends simply to slow down the bill, force it through the committee process, or see that it never comes up for a vote.

Lights, Camera, Action

Bollywood & Hollywood
Among the latest tranche of WikiLeaks cables released by The Hindunewspaper is one that throws light on an under-noticed dimension of U.S.-India relations: Their compatible strengths and convergent interests in the area of global entertainment and media. For all the glamour attached to Hollywood and Bollywood* in their home countries, their potential in fostering bilateral ties has been scarcely appreciated.With the United States and India possessing the world’s largest entertainment and media sectors, both in terms of sheer output and global popularity, the opportunities for collaboration are large for jointly producing new content, forging new creative collaborations and accessing new markets. With a growing middle class, a large English-speaking populace, a booming number of multiplexes and television channels, and a cinema-obsessed popular culture, India is a natural destination and partner for Hollywood studios.

Besides a burgeoning market, India possesses another alluring if sometimes overlooked quality: It is Asia’s most liberal market for foreign media companies, both in terms of investment regime and political climate. On both counts, Star Network relocated its Asia hub from Hong Kong to Mumbai last year (see here and here ), and India has become the most important country for News Corporation’s Asian regional business. As a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report suggests, India – not China – is emerging as Asia’s media hub.Bollywood firms are similarly expanding their global reach, including in the United States. Reliance ADA Group, one of India’s headline industrial houses, is aiming to create a world-wide entertainment conglomerate. It has entered into a high-profile joint venture with Steven Spielberg to form a new movie studio and has cut deals with a number of Hollywood heavyweights to fund the development of scripts and jointly present proposals to studios. Last year, the company also entered into talks with Universal Studios about creating India’s first film-themed amusement park, as well as purchased a majority stake in IM Global, a Los Angeles-based company specializing in foreign-rights sales.Yet, as a February 2010 dispatch from the U.S. consulate in Mumbai makes clear, greater effort is required in order to exploit synergistic possibilities. Despite Hollywood’s growing interest in the Indian market as a way of offsetting its own sluggish box office sales, the cable notes that the U.S. movie industry has still not found a good working model for partnering with Bollywood. Hollywood films face constrained revenue potential in India, due to much lower box office prices compared to the U.S. but also because cinema-goers prefer big-budget action movies over Hollywood’s other fare.

U.S. and Indian studios have entered into a number of high-profile co-production deals, though to date none of them have enjoyed much commercial success. Given its vital market, U.S. studios will continue searching for the right formula for success. But the cable casts doubt that co-productions will pay off anytime soon given that Bollywood fears opening the door too widely to Hollywood’s presence.

Still, the cable points to useful synergies in a number of behind-the-scenes areas. The Indian film industry, which has rarely enjoyed global success beyond diasporic communities , would profit from Hollywood’s expertise in international marketing and distribution, as well as from sourcing U.S. production and technical talent. In turn, Hollywood would benefit from shipping animation and post-production work to India, taking advantage of its modern facilities and affordable workforce. One might add that Indian studios, which are leaders in experimenting with innovative ways of film distribution, like the Internet and mobile applications, could also be a valuable source of new business models for their Hollywood partners.

Yet even if bi-national movie collaborations have yet to live up to expectations, other interactions in the entertainment and media space are bearing fruit. India is one of the world’s fastest growing entertainment and media markets; a new forecast by the KMPG consulting firm puts its size at $28 billion by 2015 . The number of television-viewing households has exploded in recent years. The country also has the second largest pay-television market after China, with an estimated 105 million Indian households currently subscribing to terrestrial analogue cable, satellite and digital networks.

These headline numbers explain why so many U.S. media companies, including Walt Disney, News Corporation, Time Warner and Viacom have joined up with Indian partners to launch channels over the past several years. Last August, CBS Corporation likewise jumped into the game, hooking up with Reliance ADA Group to launch several English-language channels.

Although many of these venues simply offer a platform for U.S.-made fare, jointly-produced content is also beginning to emerge. Indeed, TV productions that combine U.S. and Indian strengths present a large opportunity, both in India and far beyond. According to the consultancy Media Partners Asia, there is a huge, largely untapped global market with a cultural affinity to television content from India, including Mauritians who watch Hindi-language TV and people in Saudi Arabia, which does not have a local media industry.

All of these developments signal a new era in global entertainment. Although U.S. and Indian government officials would not naturally think of it, enhanced partnership in the entertainment and media sector has important policy implications. Since Hollywood and Bollywood are successful exporters of cultural content, the two countries have a major shared interest in keeping global markets open for their products. Washington and New Delhi should thus craft a common approach on cultural market access and use their combined weight to advance it in international trade negotiations. True, the two governments have been at loggerheads in the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks. But a joint proposal on cultural access would focus U.S. and Indian energies on discrete, easily-managed trade issues in which the mutuality of economic benefit is self evident. Beyond its commercial ramifications, the initiative would have political value, further solidifying the U.S.-India partnership and providing an important example of joint leadership in the global economy.

With broadband penetration continuing to accelerate worldwide, the private sectors and governments in both countries similarly have a common interest in advancing the digital transformation of the global media industry. Washington and New Delhi should thus convene a summit of all relevant parties in both countries to consider implementing this objective on a joint basis. Real-time creative and production partnerships could also be enhanced by the development of advanced fiber-optic networks capable of transmitting data at a rate of one gigabyte per second between the two countries. Efforts now underway by U.S. and Indian universities to create collaborative network tools need to be encouraged by adequate government funding on both sides. Such networks would not only spur interactions in the entertainment and media field but in other innovation economy sectors as well.

Policymakers gathered at next month’s U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi will no doubt concentrate on matters like defense cooperation, the endgame in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s volatility. But a focus on things like global entertainment collaborations is also worth their while, given the importance of private-sector and societal linkages in helping bind the bilateral relationship together .

* With apologies to the vibrant local-language film industries in southern India, Bollywood is used here as a shorthand signifying the Indian entertainment sector writ large, though strictly speaking it refers only to the Hindi-language movie industry centered in Mumbai.

A US-India Nuclear Alliance

Although President George W Bush understood the need to ensure parity for India with France and the U.K. in a 21st century alliance calculus, the Europeanists within his administration slowed down his effort at ensuring an equal treatment for India. Much the same as Winston Churchill in the previous century, they regard it as a “country of a lesser god” that is simply undeserving of any except a subservient status. Sadly, the Obama administration has become even more a Europeanists’ delight than its predecessor, and it has very rapidly sought to dilute the few concessions that President Bush succeeded in extracting from his skeptical team.


This has been especially pronounced in the nuclear field. It is not rocket science that India’s ascent into middle income status will depend on a huge increase in its generation of energy, and that such an increase, given existing green technologies, will need to be powered mostly by energy from nuclear sources. The nuclear industries of India and the U.S. have excellent synergy between them, provided the U.S. acknowledges the implicit premise of the 2005 Singh-Bush statement and the 2008 unanimous vote of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to allow commerce and cooperation with India.

The non-proliferation lobby within the U.S. (a group heavily represented in the Obama administration) made India its primary target since 1974, neglecting to take account of the leaching of nuclear and missile technology from China and other locations to Pakistan and North Korea. Small wonder that it has demonized the India-US deal as a “danger to non-proliferation efforts”, despite the fact that a democracy of a billion-plus people is as much entitled to critical technologies as France or the UK. The reality, however, is that the Manmohan Singh government made several concessions to the U.S. side that have had the effect of substantially degrading India’s offensive capability. An example was the closing down of the CIRUS reactor, which was producing weapons-grade plutonium for decades. In exchange, India was to be given access to re-processing technology. Not merely has such technology continued to be denied to India, but the Obama administration is seeking to cap, roll back and eliminate India’s homegrown reprocessing capabilities.

Apart from strong-arm (and secret) tactics designed to force India to agree to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), the Obama administration is now seeking to force India to give up its Fast Breeder Reactor program. As if on cue, those commentators in the world’s second-largest English-speaking country – including those not known for any previous interest in matters nuclear- who hew to the line of any incumbent U.S. administration have used the Fukushima disaster to call for the FBR program to be abandoned.

Whether by accident or by design, since 2007, this program has slowed down substantially, to the dismay of scientists working in the Atomic Energy Establishment who were rooting strongly for the India-US nuclear deal on the premise that this would ensure a much-needed alliance between the nuclear industries of both countries.

 Instead, because of the present administration’s steady drumbeat of fresh conditions (and retrogressive tweaking of existing agreements), nuclear cooperation between the U.S. and India has remained frozen, even while that with Russia has bloomed. Hopefully, such a state of affairs will not continue for long.

One sector where a vigorous India-US partnership would immensely benefit both countries (of course, on the assumption – challenged by key elements in the Obama administration – that India is entitled to the same status as other key U.S. allies) would be in the field of thorium. India has nearly 300,000 tons of thorium (Th), more than enough to power the nuclear industries of both countries. India has already gone a substantial distance towards a viable thorium-based technology. The catch is that this involves reprocessing on a significant scale, a technology that the Churchillians in the U.S. administration say should be denied to India. This is despite the fact that when anyone last checked, India was not an authoritarian state but a democracy. Unless of course, such a prejudice is based on instincts that are not mentionable in polite company.

Despite having been treated as a pariah state by the US, India consistently abided even by agreements that the U.S. side had unilaterally discarded, for example at Tarapur. In this facility, a huge amount of radioactive material has piled up, that India has not re-processed, despite having the technology to, because the plant was set up in collaboration with the US. Some of the spent fuel has been converted after much expense and effort from unsafeguarded radioactive material to safeguarded irradiated fuel, especially in RAPS 1 and 2.

Despite such good behavior, not to mention an impeccable non-proliferation record, the Obama administration in effect continues to treat India as a nuclear pariah, seeking to drive it down to the status of a recipient country under the proposed international scheme for nuclear cooperation. Such a mindset would put paid to any possibility of an India-US alliance, and would be very good news to a country that U.S. non-proliferationists treat with kid gloves, China.

Credit: www.dae.govIndia has already developed two thorium-based systems, the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) and the Compact High Temperature Reactor (CHTR). Although for some reason there seems to be a sharp deceleration in such plans by the present Manmohan Singh government, plans are for the entry of the Indian private sector in this greenfield industry. Ideally, these would partner with U.S. companies, but the way matters are going, it would seem that Russian state enterprises may eventually end up as the preferred partners. This is presumably the reason why there is a significant lobby within India that opposes those within the government who seek to buy either the F -16 or the F-18 for the Indian Air Force. The continued reluctance to give India its due as a major power is behind the skepticism in South and North Block about relying on the U.S. for critical defense equipment. The Obama administration’s cavalier treatment of India’s rights as a responsible nuclear power are behind the pressure by elements of the armed forces to backtrack on plans for a comprehensive defense partnership with India. India gets treated as a Sudan or as a Gautemala in such a pairing, rather than get located in the same bracket as France and the US.


Despite their worst efforts, the plan to once again consign India to the bottom of the nuclear heap will not succeed. The 21st century mandates a vigorous partnership of the two most populous Anglosphere countries, India and the US. The non-proliferationists in the U.S. ought not to be allowed to make this hostage to their refusal to admit that India and its population are as responsible and deserving of privileges as the people of major U.S. allies in Europe. Should such a Churchillian view on India continue, the geopolitical gainers would be Russia and China.

Maximum India

The Kennedy Center’s mega-celebration of Indian culture – an extravaganza dubbed “Maximum India” – is now well underway, with sold-out performances and throngs of people in attendance. The three week long festival 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 changed in critical ways. Nowadays, it is broadly viewed as a fast-rising economic and technology powerhouse and home to a vast reservoir of highly-trained brainpower that will inevitably sap the U.S. edge in innovation. When President Obama points to Bangalore as a threat to America’s competitive advantage or invokes India as part of a new “Sputnik moment,” one quickly understands how far we have traveled from yesterday’s stereotypes.

Of course, a segment of U.S. opinion, attracted to Indian cultural traditions and the moral precepts of Mahatma Gandhi, has long held the country in high regard.  But for many decades most Americans were inclined to the views of Harry S. Truman, who dismissed India as “pretty jammed with poor people and cows wandering around streets, witch doctors and people sitting on hot coals and bathing in the Ganges.”  Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, had an even more incisive perspective: “by and large [Indians] and their country give me the creeps.”

A decade after Indian independence, 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. A generation after Harold Issacs, the 1984 adventure film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom depicted India along essentially the same lines – as a country was filled with hapless, impoverished villagers and benighted religious practices.

Official attitudes in Washington tended to parallel public opinion. U.S. policymakers during the Cold War paid only episodic attention to New Delhi and when they did it was largely a function of the superpower rivalry with the Soviet Union rather a desire to meaningfully engage Indian leaders. The Kennedy administration placed considerable if anomalous emphasis on India, making a massive commitment of economic assistance. But by the end of the Johnson administration, leading Democrats grew fatigued with the country’s seemingly insuperable problems. As Dennis Kux notes in Estranged Democracies, his history of the bilateral relationship, by the late 1960s “India, in Washington’s eyes, had become just a big country full of poor people.” The Nixon administration similarly believed that India was not worthy of heavy engagement. President Nixon himself held denigrating views of Indians, seeing them as supine and indecisive, and regarded Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in an even worse light. 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.”

So, what accounts for the significant shift in cultural perceptions that is increasingly registered in government statements – such as, President Obama’s calling India an “emerged” country and an “indispensable partner” – and in high-profile cultural events like the Kennedy Center’s?  An obvious part of the answer lies in the dramatic turnabout in Indian prospects launched by the 1991 economic reforms. Long gone are the days when India was seen as an economic laggard or a marginal factor in global commerce. In a remarkable sign of changing fortunes, the New York Times “Room for Debate” blog in late 2010 convened seven experts for a discussion on which lessons in economic competitiveness the United States could learn from India.  Along similar lines, Fareed Zakaria in Time magazine contrasted a dejected America with an India filled with people “brimming with hope and faith in the future,” while Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times proclaimed that “It’s Morning in India.” And a new Citibank report concludes that India will likely be the world’s largest economic power by 2050.

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. 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 report by the RAND Corporation, Indian-American entrepreneurs have business income that is substantially higher than the national average and higher than any other immigrant group.  High-skill immigrants from India are a significant driving force in U.S. prosperity and innovation, most famously in the information technology industry.  As Vivek Wadhwa and his colleagues document, Indians stand out among immigrant entrepreneurs, having founded from 1995-2005 more U.S.-based engineering and technology companies in the past decade or so than immigrants from the United Kingdom, China, Taiwan and Japan combined.  According to industry estimates, Indians are involved in 40 percent of all start-up ventures in Silicon Valley.  India-born scientific and engineering talent is also an important pillar of the faculties in America’s top universities.

The rising profile of the Indian diaspora has helped change public opinion in relatively short order.  For example, in contrast to the traditional sentiment of disdain or pity, a February 2010 Gallup survey found that two-thirds of Americans now have a positive impression of India, a favorability level equal to that of Israel.  In my next post, I will explore further how this societal factor has contributed to the new era in U.S.-India relations and how policymakers in Washington and New Delhi can capitalize on it.

‘The Voice of the Majority -1- ‘Don’t Tread on Our Religion, Our Culture’

Every elite American newspaper is full of articles about Pakistan’s descent into religious extremism and the stunned reaction of the “westernized Pakistani elite” (as Washington Post put it) at the popular support in Pakistan for the accused assassin of Governor Salman Taseer. There is no question that successive Pakistani Military and Civilian regimes have nurtured Islamic extremism and built up the Taleban. It is also true that the assassination has severely shaken the confidence of the Pakistani elite and that of the Obama Administration.

Supports of Malik Qadri shower rose petalsI abhor any doctrine, regime or society that chooses to call itself the “Land of the Pure” or Pak-i-Stan. Once you call your society the land of the Pure, you sort of undertake the obligation to rid your society of any impure elements. That is what successive land-of-the-pure regimes have done by trying to cleanse their societies of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Ahmadiyya Muslims over a 60-year period.

But I also recognize that Pakistani society has never elected religious parties in any election. They have usually voted for non-religious parties. So what turned this Pakistani society to shower rose petals on an accused assassin of a popular governor? Below is a contrarian and perhaps controversial answer.

•    The majority in every society or country expects its religion, its culture, its belief systems to be respected and protected by its government. I consider this fact to be self-evident. As a corollary, the majority tends to protest and rebel against any external pressure to modify its religious and social laws. When its own government aligns itself with the external source of pressure, the protests turn vehement. If the external forces are of another religion, then the anger can turn incendiary.

Perhaps, this is what happened in Pakistan. Rather than working quietly and discreetly to free the Christian woman sentenced under the 30-year old Blasphemy law, serious attempts were made to force Pakistan’s weak government to amend or abolish the law. This, I think, was a huge mistake. It changed the nature of the debate from being merciful to a poor woman to pressure from American and Western Christians to force a change in Pakistani society’s sacred religious principles.

In this context, an accused assassin of a popular governor became a symbol of defiance against American & Christian pressure against Muslims and a defender of the Prophet. Perhaps, a Muslim fighter against modern Christian Crusaders?  Is this so hard to understand?

I guess it is if you are a member of the American Elite and Media Elite in particular. If you think, I am being harsh, think back to their coverage of the Tea Party in America in 2010. This is the same elite section of American Establishment that once derided Core America as “small town people clinging to religion and guns”.  These are the same people who expressed outrage that over 70% of Americans were against construction of a new Mosque near the sacred Ground Zero. These American Elite accused Core Americans for becoming intolerant. It was preposterous.

There are over 90 Mosques in New York City, by some counts. So why did Americans protest so passionately against one new Mosque in New York? It was because that project seemed to symbolize an “in-your-face-America” message. It came across as a deliberate affront to America’s sacred memories and beliefs. So the American majority stood up and said, “Don’t tread on us”. The American Elite still don’t get this.

The American Elite express disapproval of religious beliefs and promotes an arrogant secularism. If they approve of someone, they call him or her “liberal”. If they don’t, they call the person “traditional” or “religious”. They misuse America’s clout to force their “secularism” on governments of countries that depend on American aid. They do not get the basic fact that the core of most societies is religious. They do not understand that their demands come across simultaneously as arrogant “irreligiousity” (to paraphrase Stratfor) and as attacks on sacred principles. So is it any surprise that their actions usually misfire as they did in Pakistan!

Perhaps they should watch Bill O’Reilly of Fox speak of “secular-progressives” in his tone of dripping contempt. If the American Elite cannot convince Bill O’Reilly, why do they think they should pressure Pakistan? If they cannot understand Core America, why do they think they can understand Core Pakistan or Core India?

How does this discussion lead to core India or to US-India relations? That is a topic for the next article.