The United Kingdom, once the bellwether state for the Indian migrant, has further signalled its intention to lower the portcullis on new immigrants. The indications in the annual Queen's Speech were driven in part by the UK Independence Party's recent council election successes and its virulently anti-immigrant stance. However, the UK lifted the drawbridge on immigrants from India years ago leaving only one or two paths for legal migration from countries outside the European Union.
A similar immigrant icon seems set to tumble in the new draft immigration bill being debated in the United States. Though it is not clear if this bill will become law, nonetheless it reflects a general sentiment in American immigration thinking by taking direct aim at the Indian techie worker crossing the world on a wing, prayer and an H-1B visa. Then there are the new indigenous hiring requirements being pushed by Persian Gulf nations, most notably Saudi Arabia. This threatens a different immigration story - one centred around working class economic migrants from South India who sought their fortunes in West Asia's construction boom. The global picture in immigration is actually far more mixed. Icons of the past may be tumbling, but they seem set to be replaced by new ones that will continue to provide opportunities for Indians seeking to go overseas. The overwhelming new trend is a global shortage of highly-skilled labour and a hunt for entrepreneurial talent. The US bill may partly close the H-1B door, but it pushes the one for students in science and technology wide open. It also seeks to make citizens of them, rather than merely use them for labour arbitrage. This reflects a general worldwide trend, from Singapore to Sweden, of looking for immigrants of enterprise. The middle-class immigrant is the flavour of a post-financial crisis world and this means a greater desire for immigrants to become full-fledged citizens.
Those who will face a loss of opportunities overseas will be working class Indians. The world has been increasingly hostile to them as this class struggles even in the developed world these days. The West denied them entry from the seventies onward. Southeast Asia followed suit and now the Gulf may be lost to them as well. India has done well out of its migrants, expanding educational and skills for its workers so they can maintain an immigration option. Opening doors would be a way to return the favour.