The U.S. President Joe Biden brings cheers to Indian Americans with his liberalized immigration policy as promised in his campaign agenda. For many Indians, especially those in the information technology, America remains a dream with their aspirations and expertise.
One of the most significant policy reliefs for India under the Biden administration is immigrants’ liberalized work visa. Whenever the Indian leaders met their counterparts, the immigration policy was one of the topics. The liberal policy will benefit Indian immigrants to a large extent.
During the Trump regime, immigration, trade, and human rights remained sore issues. Trump made it more difficult for immigrants to enter the U.S., and on trade issues also he was not willing to concede. However, the ties between the two countries thrived at other levels.
Fulfilling his campaign promise, Biden sent a comprehensive immigration bill to the U.S. Congress on his first day in office. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 statement eliminates the per-country cap for job-based green cards, among other relief measures. The bill also proposes to grant legal status and a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented immigrants, including 1.7 million Indians. The worst sufferers of the current system are the highly skilled Indian I.T. professionals, as Trump made it more challenging to enter the U.S. either for the professionals or the students. The former enter the U.S. mainly on the H-1B work visas. The new visa regime will help U.S. tech companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft recruit many I.T. professionals from India. Presently about 8 lakh Indians on the H-1B visa are in the green card queue. The bill also provides dependents of H-1B visa holders’ work authorization, introduced by Obama in 2015.
The New bill also clears immigration backlogs and makes it easier for U.S. universities in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields to stay in the U.S. It also increases the visa program from 55,000 visas to 80,000 per year.
Because of Covid, President Trump, on June 22, 2020, banned skilled immigrant workers such as H-1B visa holders into the U.S. and further extended it up to March 2021. Biden, in his campaign, promised to undo this executive order.
Biden signed three executive orders reversing Trump on immigration in the first week in office:
1. On creating a task force, chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security, to reunify families.
2. A strategy to address the root causes of migration across the borders and created a humane asylum system.
3. Promote immigrant integration and inclusion.
Despite doubts in the South Block, Biden has been a supporter of India all through. Even as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later as vice president, Biden has supported India’s strong friendship. He also endorsed the Indo –U.S. nuclear bill in 2008. In any case, there is bipartisan support for India from both Republicans and Democrats. Experts believe from recovering Covid to building the shattered economy, the new U.S. administration will help India.
Biden has a much broader vision of the role of Indian Americans. Courting the Indian American votes during the Presidential campaign, Biden said, “Our government will reflect the diversity of the United States, and Indian American voices will be included in shaping the policies that impact their communities. ” He also came up with a unique policy paper on Indian Americans, the first time any presidential hopefuls ever did. True to his promise, Biden has nominated at least 20 Indian Americans, including 13 women, to key positions in his Administration.
New Delhi has been watching the change of regime closely. The new Administration has already sent positive signals.
Key U.S. officials have begun talking to their Indian counterparts in the past two weeks. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, reiterating their strategic partnership commitment. The U.S. sees a significant role for India in countering China. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh assured the new U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about strengthening the military ties. The two sides have pledged to work closely on other areas like terrorism, maritime security, cyber security, peace, and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. So, New Delhi and Washington have begun well.
While the Biden administration has sent the positive vibes, Democrats closely scrutinize the Modi government’s handling of minorities, tensions in Kashmir, and alleged violation of human rights. However, experts say that criticism, if any, might be nuanced now that Biden is in office.
Diplomacy between the two countries has come a long way in the past two decades, particularly after the liberalization of the Indian economy. Indian Americans have also begun to occupy key posts in the United States. South Block believes that the Indo –US ties will be strengthened further during Biden administration.
Kalyani Shankar is a senior journalist and analyst based in New Delhi.