America’s immigration impasse isn’t going away, only the talent is
There will be fewer Indians with fresh H1Bs on their passports heading to the US this year. And this is a phenomenon that may outlive the Donald Trump Administrationcolumns Updated: Mar 31, 2018 15:30 IST
As the new week begins, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS will announce, almost certainly, that the number of petitions it has received for H1B visas outnumber the available quota and, therefore, it will hold yet another lottery to determine the fortunate thousands who will arrive in America in 2019, staffing mainly tech sector cubicles.
But numbers are trending down. Last year, there were 37,000 fewer people wanting the visa than in 2016. Given that the current occupant of the White House uses the word immigration as invective, that’s hardly a surprise. Over the last 15 years or so, however, there’s been a sort of consensus in America that these foreign coders, mainly from India, are stealing the organic avocado sandwiches from the mouths of hungry locals. If Donald Trump is the latest to try and build a wall between them and Silicon Valley and similar IT hubs, he’s part of a pattern across parties.
Of course, Democrats aren’t quite as concerned about illegal crossings at America’s Southern border, because that’s a useful political tool to keep the US immigration system broken. Unlike the undocumented, those that fill in the reams of paperwork required for an application, with volumes of private information that would make data-miners at Cambridge Analytica salivate, get high salaries in exchange for low expectations of security.
So, you have those like Vikram Rangekar, a former Linkedin employee and serial entrepreneur, who decided to shift base to Toronto in 2016 because “green card paths are completely blocked” in the US. Instead of fantasising about the American dream, he’s also trying to pull others like him to Canada, with a website Movnorth, which addresses their queries and offers resources. It’s tough to sustain a start-up culture when even a founder can face imminent immigration hassles and has to stay in H1 limbo in his or her own company. Ragnekar is among the evangelists for a young movement away from the US, one that seems to be taking hold. The weather may not be as welcoming up north as that in Mountain View or Santa Clara, California, but several degrees of comfort are offered by a predictable permanent residency process.
All tech talent will not bypass the American magnet, but enough will look at other options, ones that actually want to attract them. The next generation’s Satya Nadellas or Sundar Pichais could well be working out of the Toronto-Waterloo corridor or somewhere in Europe, or even remain in India, as the next wave of tech innovation, in artificial intelligence or virtual reality turns the Facebooks as we now know them into artefacts of this decade like MySpace or Geocities of earlier times.
There will be fewer Indians with fresh H1Bs on their passports heading to the US this year. And this is a phenomenon that may outlive the Donald Trump Administration. America’s immigration impasse isn’t going away, only the talent is.