The US Senate has confirmed Jeff Sessions, one of President Donald Trump’s most contentious Cabinet picks and, notably for India, a leading immigration hawk and critic of the H-1B temporary visa programme, as the next attorney general.
Sessions, a fourth-term US senator from Alabama and an early supporter of Trump, had faced a barrage of accusations of racism and bigotry during a bruising confirmation process that ended on Wednesday in a vote largely along party lines.
As head of the country’s federal prosecution branch and the premier investigating agency, the FBI, Sessions will have considerable influence over the Trump administration at home and abroad, and immeasurably more as a close adviser.
The Indian government, which has had, according to officials on both sides, “productive interactions (meetings and phone calls)” with the new US administration, has been paying Sessions’s appointment and the confirmation process close attention.
The former Alabama senator has been a strident critic of H-1B, a US visa programme that allows American companies, and multinationals based in the US such as Indian IT giants TCS, Infosys and Wipro, to hire high-skilled foreign workers on a temporary basis for a maximum of up to six years.
As senator, Sessions introduced a bill to make it prohibitively expensive for American employers to bring foreign workers under the H-1B programme, by proposing a high wage ceiling for H-1B hirings to make it less profitable to hire foreigners.
And he had co-sponsored a legislation that sought to cut the annual cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 (plus 20,000 issued to foreigners already in the US, enrolled in colleges and universities, so 85,000 in all) to 50,000.
In fact, Sessions has said he believes the programme could be done away with entirely. “I don’t think the republic would collapse if it was totally eliminated,” he said at an election rally in October, 2016, according to Des Moines Register.
It’s not just him, or his proximity to the president. New Delhi worries about his erstwhile staffers who are now in critical positions in administration and who are now pushing the same line of thinking, most critically Stephen Miller, a senior Trump adviser.
Miller subscribes to Sessions’s skepticism about H-1Bs completely and tabled critical changes in the current system in a meeting Trump had with Silicon Valley CEOs and leaders earlier, famously branded as the Tech Summit.
One, do away with the lottery system of distributing the annual quota of H-1Bs as the demand far outstrips the availability, and replace it with a system that will give priority to visa applications for high-paying jobs.
Two, remove the Masters degree waiver to attract really the best and the most educated foreigners and not those brought here to replace Americans even from relatively lower-skilled, low-paying jobs, as has happened under outsourcing.
Trump is reportedly considering a set of changes on H-1B, and could, as reflected in a leaked draft of an executive order going around, seek a review of the present system with recommendations for what needs to stay and change.
Sessions, it is expected, will be a close adviser on the issue.