US President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform plan aimed among other things at holding on to bright foreign students such as those from India.
An increasing number of whom are now leaving the US after studies because of difficulties in obtaining permission to stay on, against a visa to work or start a business.
“There are brilliant students from all over the world sitting in classrooms at our top universities,” Obama said in Las Vegas.
Once they finish school, he added, there is a good chance they will leave the US to start a business or create jobs in China, India, Mexico or somewhere else”.
Holding on to them as part of the effort to fix the legal immigration system would be one of the three broad principles of his plan, which tracked closely the one announced by a bipartisan group of senators on Monday.
And the other two were: stepping up enforcement to prevent immigrants from entering the country illegally, and providing a clear path to citizenship for the 11 million illegals already here.
“It was wonderful,” said Vivek Wadhwa of the president’s plan for foreign students. He has argued in a book that bright students are leaving the US because of bad immigration laws.
The loser was the US. He has said more than half (52.4%) of Silicon Valley startups had one or more immigrants as a key founder. And 28% of the firms had Indian or Chinese founders.
The Indian IT industry, which is closely following the immigration debate for signs of an end to their biggest trade easing of H-1B and L-I visa regime for Indians, will have to wait for some more time.
Indian IT giants, and even smaller firms, have been hit by a high rate of rejection of applications from Indians they seek to bring to work at their US operations.
“There was nothing in the broad principles laid out by the president and by the senators on Monday,” said an Indian tech company official.
But this is just the start.
Immigration reform, especially the promise of citizenship, is a highly contentious issue in the US, with Republicans historically favouring tougher law enforcement to all else.
But with Hispanics emerging as a voting group capable of turning elections — a key factor in Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney — Republicans are showing more flexibility.
There appears to be bipartisan support for immigration reforms reflected in the plan put together by the senators. But the House of Representative, dominated by extreme conservatives in the Republican Party, might not fall in line easily.
To them, Obama said if “Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist they vote right away”.