It seems to be yet another attempt by US President Donald Trump’s administration to appease the American public, whose growing sense of disenchantment with its policies, has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing wide-ranging unemployment.
In the backdrop of the pandemic, unemployment in the US stood at 40 mn. Trump’s justification for revoking the H1-B and L-1 visa can be tied to the fact that between Feb-Apr 2020, over 20 mn American workers were rendered jobless in key industries where top bosses were presently requesting to fill vacancies with H1-B and L workers. During the same period, over 17 mn jobs were lost in sectors where the management hopes to plug the vacancies with workers having an H2-B non-immigrant visa. Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank forecasts 1.6 lakh workers and dependants could be blocked starting this July until the year-end. This includes 29,000 H-1B visa holders and 72,000 with J-1 visas. It would be premature to assume Trump’s latest move, in line with his America First protectionist policies, will herald the beginning of the end for the American Dream, as far as India is concerned. And there’s a good reason for the same.
India made up a staggering 72 per cent of the approximately 3.8 lakh H-1B visa petitions approved in FY 2019 (as per US Citizenship and Immigration Services data). Next in line were Chinese professionals with 13 per cent of the petitions. The suspension of these visas could result in a shortage of skilled workers in the US, which would inadvertently lead to a higher quantum of outsourced projects coming to India. An indirect benefit of the ban, as seen by many head-hunters, is the fact that highly skilled professionals in the STEM fields, who were all set to leave for greener pastures, might now consider setting base in India, which is also in the midst of an economic shake-down.
Many technology majors based out of India have already reduced their dependency on US visas, as part of streamlining their operations. Moreover, the country is also home to 1,300 captives - sub-units of MNCs based in the US and other countries, which employ as many as one million staffers. Top consultants believe that the visa suspension could lead to a 10-15 per cent increase in hiring - essentially adding one lakh employees to the talent pool of India by 2021. The pandemic has also moved several tech firms into adopting work from home strategies, which is now being seen as an economically feasible alternative to on-site assignments.
In a year with an impending election, the US President has been bringing out all his big guns. His 2016 election promise to his core vote bank involved cutting down the number of foreign workers in the country as part of Make America Great Again. It’s also a time when Vocal for Local has become the clarion call for India. The country’s IT sector could do well by spotting the silver lining in this scenario and consequently attract and retain top talent while there’s still a chance.