Opinion | Trump’s America may be driving Indians out
Indian professionals and students, once a steady source of talent, are rapidly souring on US President Donald Trump’s America, seen increasingly hostile to immigrants in the image of its leader.
One of the world’s leading job sites, Indeed, reported this week that Indians showed a decline in interest in US tech jobs in the first quarter of 2019 as compared to the same period in 2018, based on the number of clicks originating there on links to postings on its website. But India remained the top source of foreign clicks for these jobs, besting the next four — Canada, United Kingdom. Germany and Philippines — by a wide margin.
And guess who is stepping up as an alternative to the US, generally and not specifically for job seekers from India? Canada, which is up by 58% over 2015. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Canada seems more welcoming than Trump’s America, where immigrants — both legal and undocumented — have come under harsh scrutiny that can, and often does, descend into unmistakable hostility with no blow, be it race, ethnicity or language, is considered too low.
The author of the Indeed report, Andrew Flowers, an economist who once worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and FiveThirtyEight, the data-driven news site, and wrote freelance pieces for The Economist, said factors such as domestic economies and immigration policies can generally drive job seekers’ interest in US tech jobs and though he did not know if it was indeed those factors that caused the dip for India, he added, they could well have.
These findings are consistent with other markers — statistical and anecdotal — that point to growing unease among Indians wanting to study in the US (on F-1 visas), work (H-1B for the kind of tech jobs surveyed by Indeed) or naturalise (H-1B, for instance, going on to Green Card) since President Trump took office in January 2017. The number of Indians enrolled in graduate and professional courses in the United States, for instance, declined in 2018 by 8.8% over the previous year, a figure that was notably similar to the 8% reported by Indeed for India-originating clicks on US tech job postings.
India is the second-largest source of foreign students in US colleges, after China. The Institute of International Education, which tracks and studies enrolment of international students in America and works with the state department on an annual stocktaking Open Door Report, noted in its 2018 fall survey of US colleges and universities — the most recent report available —that 42% of the respondents reported falling numbers of Indians seeking admission.
And 64% of surveyed colleges and universities said that prospective students cited “the current US social and political climate as a potential deterrent to US study”. Equally noteworthy was the finding that “roughly one in four responding institutions (24%) indicate that international students expressed the desire to leave or have left the United States due to the current climate, up from 16% in Fall 2017”.
Trump had rolled out his “Buy American, Hire American” initiative some months before. And it was clear then, as now, who he was targeting: the H-1B visa programme, which allows US companies and US-based subsidiaries of multinationals, to hire highly skilled foreign workers and which had been in the crosshairs of those who believed it was being used to displace American workers. Indians were the chief beneficiary of this programme. Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an H-1B engineer with GPS major, Garmin, in Olathe, Kansas, became the first major victim of the backlash that followed. He was killed by a man who later claimed he had mistaken Kuchibhotla for someone from West Asia, a region that remains etched in the minds of Americans as the chief source of global terrorism after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.