Washington: “Demonising” the H-1B work visa issue could be a “source of tension” in Indo-US ties, a former top diplomat under the Obama Administration has said, calling for a “rational discourse” on the topic that could affect the lives of thousands of Indians.
“The issue of H1B and the rhetoric that has been flying around all of that, I think is going to be a source of tension,” former US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal told PTI.
Her remarks came amidst reports that the Trump administration is initiating steps against it and half a dozen bills have been introduced in the US Congress in this regard.
The former Obama administration diplomat called for a rational discourse on this issue.
“We can all agree that the H-1B program has been an important and necessary program to help both, US and foreign companies meet shortages in high-skilled workers. And that this has, therefore, brought much benefit to the American economy, and to the communities of which these companies both US and foreign operate,” she asserted.
“But we can also all agree that there have been some overuses, misuses and abuses of this program,” she said, adding some revisions being contemplated would be helpful in trying to ensure that the program is used as intended and not misused.
“What I think is deeply regrettable, is rhetoric both during the campaign and what has been heard from some political leaders and from some communities in constituency within the US is a scapegoating of the program for the kinds of job losses that certain industries and certain communities are experiencing,” Biswal said in response to a question.
“It’s fundamentally a conflating of issues so that rather than tackling some of the more difficult issues that we as a country need to address in terms of how our economy is changing, in terms of how certain industries and certain types of jobs are frankly not tenable in the long-term. Therefore, we need to think about how to re-structure the American work force and what kind of training and opportunity to provide,” Biswal said.
“Rather than having those difficult conversations, what I find very regrettable is a scapegoating and a demonising of a certain program in a certain category of work, as being the reason why there are job losses, or why there is economic stagnation in certain parts of the country. Because these, you know, foreign workers are coming in and taking our jobs. I find that offensive. I find that disturbing,” she alleged.
“I find that at the end of the day what it does is it makes the US, it makes our economy and our society less welcoming, less hospitable. Less vibrant, less dynamic,” she said.
The former top American diplomat said that the US would be badly hit if the US is not drawing the talent, the best, the brightest minds from around the world to its shores, whether in temporary capacities, whether in student capacities or in immigrant capacities.
“So, what I would hope is that on the issue of the H1B program, that we can have a rational discourse on what are some of the reforms that would be useful. What are some of the ways in which companies that use that category of skilled labour, can also be committing to building training and opportunities for displaced workers to be able to engage in some of these jobs. And how can we kind of re-frame the discussion in a more constructive and productive way,” she said.
“Because otherwise, what you have when you do that kind of scapegoating is you then create vulnerability for those workers and for all immigrant populations,” Biswal warned.
“We are starting to see that in the rise in hate crimes, and the rise of violence targeting immigrant communities. And particularly we’ve seen the uptake on violence against Indians and Indian-Americans in the US,” she added.
“I think that the government and political leaders at the national, at the state, and at the local level have a responsibility to, one, condemn that kind of violence and targeting, and two, to act and speak responsibly about these issues,” Biswal said in response to a question.
Biswal said she is worried that there are many people in communities across the country who feel vulnerable and unsafe.
“We are hearing that in the IT community certainly. We’re hearing that people are afraid to travel. That even in-country transfers people are afraid to get on airplanes because they think they may be targeted, even though they’re here legally,” she said.
She said people are worried about how they’re perceived in the communities in which they are living and that’s deeply unfortunate because it goes against the grain of what America has been for all these years and generations.
“I wish that my concerns had not been actualized. I wish that coming into office that there had been a conservative effort to change the rhetoric and to bring everybody together.
But I fear that that has not been the case,” she said.