US secretary of state John Kerry was in India in August and President Barack Obama hosts Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.
American politicians are very good at saying “India is a great democracy”, “You Indian Americans are so smart in medicine, engineering, IT, business,” “You Indian Americans contribute so much to our economy” etc.
They then have a few photo-ops and walk away with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the Indian American community. But talk about real policy, real legislation where rubber meets the road, then matters take a different turn.
Let’s take the S.744, Immigration Modernization Act 2013, encouraged by Obama and passed primarily by Democrats in the US Senate. It is fortunately blocked at the moment by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives but the Bill affects the lives of as many as 500,000 Indian software engineers working on a temporary H1 or L1 visa in the US.
Nearly half or all of Indian software engineers may have to head back to India, that would affect India’s GDP negatively by as much as 1.5% per year. It would also mean the loss of $20 billion per year in foreign exchange remittances to India.
The immigration Bill is widely recognised as having an adverse effect on India’s IT sector. A recent JP Morgan report said that the “estimated adverse impact on India’s FY2015 GDP (including the downstream multiplier impact) due to the outplacement clause in the immigration bill at 0.3% to 4% is large enough for the government of India to get worried about the immigration bill”.
It also said that “even more worrying, perhaps, is the adverse implications this finding has on downstream lower-level employment this sector generates.”
The S.744 Immigration Modernization Act, designed to give a path to citizenship to almost 20 million illegal workers primarily from south of the US border with Mexico, places draconian restrictions on all companies that sponsor and hire H1 or L1 visa holders in the US.
There is another aspect of the Bill that is often overlooked. There are almost 5,000 IT firms in the US owned by Indian Americans, having an average of 50 employees each, which could be forced to go out of business. These small businesses are significant job and revenue creators for the US economy.
Little wonder that the US Chamber of Commerce is also against the anti-India provisions of this bill.
S.744 also has additional features that are bad for Indian American families. It prevents, for instance, US citizens from sponsoring their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters (who are over 31 years of age) for a Green Card or permanent residency status.
The Obama administration and the Democrats have not amended the S.744 Bill despite requests by former PM Manmohan Singh. Modi should settle for nothing less than correction of the S.744 Bill by urging the US to take a firm public stand against anti-Indian provisions of this bad piece of legislation.
Even though most of the Republican leadership in the US Congress — such as Congressman Pete Sessions, chairman of the Rules Committee — opposes the new restrictions, the Modi government should continue to develop support on Capitol Hill to do away with such provisions in the Bill.
Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar is chairman, AVG Advanced Technologies, headquartered in Chicago, and founder, National Indian American Public Policy Institute
The views expressed by the author are personal