Having imposed a visa ban on seven countries with Muslim majorities and supported plans to restrict the issuance of H-1B visas, the Trump administration is turning its attention to closing the United States “golden door” to]o legal migrants. Two leaked memoranda indicate the White House is planning to restrict immigrant applicants and existing migrants. The focus: those migrants likely to need or who already receive welfare benefits. In parallel, two senators have tabled a bill that would slash the number of legal migrants into the country by roughly half and cut the issuance of green cards. This bill does not have the endorsement of the White House. However, all these pointers indicate a strong political momentum towards some sort of restriction on legal migration into the US that could manifest itself tangibly in the coming months.
The large numbers of Indians who hanker for residency and citizenship in the US have reason to be concerned. Indians are the single largest inflow of legal migrants into the US having long overtaken Mexicans and staying above Chinese the past few years. The Indian-American community is now the largest Indian diaspora in the world – and the most successful measured by education, income and political integration. It is also among the most entrepreneurial and technologically savvy communities in the US. The Trump administration seems to have kept this mind as its memoranda talk of skewing the immigration rules in favour of the highly-educated. And while President Donald Trump has lashed out against immigration, he has repeatedly exempted the highly-skilled immigrant.
It is not clear how and when this anti-immigration sentiment will find its way into regulations and legislation. With the ruling Republicans shifting away from their traditional support for open borders, however, something should be expected. The Trump administration has generally been positive about relations with India. President Trump should take note that the Indian-American community, which has grown from barely 200,000 in 1980 to over four million today, is a pillar of the growing relationship between India and the US. While there are other areas of strategic convergence, this people-to-people link has been a major source of bilateral ballast. While immigration changes that aim at poorer migrants will impact Indians less than others, Indian green-card holders awaiting US citizenship already face years of delays. Further barriers will only sour Indians of their, until now, remarkably successful American dream. Arguably India may benefit from a reduced brain drain problem, but the larger issue will be the dampening effect it will have on the India-US relationship and the crimp it will put in the sort of job-creating entrepreneurship that Trump should be embracing.