Business Pushes Trump to Import Indian H-1B Graduates in Swap for U.S. Exports

President Donald Trump meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the United Nations General Assembly, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Donald Trump should use his February 24-25 visit to India to help companies export more Indian college-graduate workers into U.S. white-collar jobs, says an Indian trade group run by Indian and U.S.-Indian companies.

The trade association, dubbed NASSCOM, “is lobbying the two sides to treat the movement of skilled Indian workers under the H-1B scheme as a trade issue, asking that it be separated from the president’s broader concerns about immigration to the US,” according to a report in Financial Times:

“We’re at a loss trying to figure out why we’re seeing the kind of discrimination when this is actually benefiting the US,” Ms Ghosh said, arguing that Indian workers help to fill a vital skills gap in the country.

“We just have one request to [our Indian] government, which is — talk to him, make him understand the importance of high-skilled talent mobility,” Ms Ghosh said. “We have to ensure that he understands that this cannot be treated the same way as immigration — they’re two different things. That’s our biggest ask.”

The outsourcing industry group is essential to the Indian economy, in part, because it helps to keep one million Indian graduates in U.S. jobs sought by U.S. graduates.

Many of those jobs are well-paid jobs in management and recruiting throughout Silicon Valley, allowing the Indian graduates to insert other Indians into the U.S. technology, banking, insurance, health care, and human resources industries.

In turn, much of the money flows back to India, creating a huge export surplus for India’s economy, which can be used to buy U.S. goods and services.

“U.S. goods and services trade with India totaled an estimated $142.6 billion in 2018. Exports were $58.7 billion; imports were $83.9 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade deficit with India was $25.2 billion in 2018,” according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “U.S. imports of services from India were an estimated $29.6 billion in 2018, 4.9% ($1.4 billion) more than 2017, and 134% greater than 2008 levels. Leading services imports from India to the U.S. were in the telecommunications, computer, and information services, research and development, and travel sectors.”

The Indian NASSCOM companies are complaining that Trump’s deputies have curbed the award of H-1B visas to the group’s Indian companies. But Trump has done little to stop U.S. and Indian managers at other U.S. companies from using H-1B visas and OPT work permits to recruit Indians instead of Americans.

In response to lobbying by the Indian CEOs, the Indian government weakly suggested the H-1B issue might be discussed with Trump. reported February 20:

The issues related to the H-1B visa may come up during bilateral talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Donald Trump next week, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said today. He said five memorandums of understanding are under discussion and could be signed by the two sides.

The likely exclusion of the H-1B issued from a near-term trade deal is also a defeat for many Indian political groups in the United States, dubbed the “Non-Resident Indian” groups. reported February 18:

Sharmishta Dutt, a 33-year-old homemaker in Philadelphia, came to the US three-years-ago on a an H-4 visa for dependent spouses after getting married.

Every morning, these days, she carefully pores over the newspapers to read everything about President Donald Trump’s February 24-25 visit to India. “I try to read everything including business and foreign affairs pages to learn about the topics that will be discussed by the two leaders during this visit,” she says.

However, she is disappointed that there is no word about immigration reforms in the US, especially for the highly qualified H-1B community that is suffering because of the green card backlog, on the agenda of Trump’s summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We would have really appreciated if Modi had also planned to discuss about the NRI community in the US and the problems they are facing,” Dutt said.

The H-1B Indians are a core element of Indian’s economic and diplomatic strategies. “The flow of talent is part of our economic cooperation,” India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in December 2019:

It is in a sense almost strategic bridge between us. So, I cannot overstate the importance of the flow of talent for Indo-American ties. That was a point I make that look, this is important for you, it is important for us. It’s important for the relationship. So let’s work together to make sure this stays sort of open and vibrant and active.

In fact, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes a point of repeatedly visiting foreign cities where Indians are employed to keep the “NRI” community tied to India. In 2015, Modi visited the Indian population in Silicon Valley, and in September 2019, he brought Trump to a stadium in Texas where hundreds of Indian organizations had assembled 50,000 Hindus at a “Howdy Modi” show of strength.

Trump shows no evidence that he will take that H-1B-imports-for-U.S.-exports deal before the 2020 election, in part, because it would be a colossal break of faith with his voters.

“It would be a terrible idea for President Trump to sign a trade deal with India that gives them H-1Bs — as many as they want — in return for the grain and oil deals,” said Marie Larson, co-founder of the American Workers Coalition, which represents the many American graduates whose careers and salaries are being slashed by the Indian outsourcing. “He would be selling out the middle class … Once you take those jobs from Americans, you can’t get them back.”

“Congress has made clear to the administration that they should not be negotiating immigration policy as part of trade deals,” said Rosemary Jenks, policy director at NumbersUSA. “The idea that immigration policy would be set to benefit a foreign country is absolutely absurd — our immigration policy should only be used to serve the needs of the United States.”

Trump is flying to India from February 24 to 25, partly to sign a partial trade treaty with India, whose population of 1.2 billion might eventually offset the expected loss of trade with China.

Nine months before the 2020 presidential elections, the Indian government is expected to put on a big show of support for Trump, according to Reuters:

“From the moment of their arrival at the airport a little before noon on 24th February, the delegates will be treated to a display of famed Indian hospitality and India’s Unity in Diversity,” said Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla.

He said there will be tens of thousands of ordinary citizens as well as artistes showcasing the performing arts from different states of the country as part of the India Road Show.

“The [political] optics of the visit apart, Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will evaluate the progress of the strategic partnership and possibly also sign the long-awaited trade deal,” reported the U.K. Telegraph newspaper.

“We’re going to India, and we may make a tremendous deal there,” Trump said in a Thursday speech in Nevada. “But we’re only making deals if they’re good deals because we’re putting America first. Whether people like it or not, we’re putting America first.”

Some Indian CEOs are expected to meet with Trump, where they will publicize promised investments in the United States. The biggest deal is likely a contract for Westinghouse to build six nuclear power plants in Southern India.

Hopes for a big trade deal are stalled, in part, because of India’s push to require all information about Indians to be stored in India. This is a problem for major U.S. companies, such as Amazon and Walmart, who want to build Internet-enabled business empires through India’s vast population of more than one billion people.

But the U.S. government also wants to help U.S. companies sell oil and grain, electronics, weapons, Internet services, helicopters, medical equipment, chicken legs, motorcycles, and aerospace contracts to India — and the Indians will want something in exchange.

The Deccan Chronicle reported:

India has started buying weapons and hydrocarbons from US to improve ties and prevent a trade war with the US.

Trump had been vocal over trade deficit with India and had in past even called India “tariff king of the world.”

India has recently bought Apache and Chinook helicopters from US. According to some estimates India has signed $17 billion defence deals with US since 2007.

In 2018, PSU GAIL had signed two, 20-year LNG supply agreements potentially worth $32 billion for US LNG exports from the Dominion Cove Point project in Maryland and the Sabine Pass project in Louisiana. The first liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipment from the US arrived at the Dabhol terminal of state-run gas major Gail in March 2018.

But India is not in a position to strongarm the United States;

Currently, the U.S. trade with India is far smaller than the U.S. trade with China. India’s ThePrint reported:

In 2018, the US was India’s largest export destination at 16 per cent of total exports, and second-largest source of imports after China at 6.3% of total imports. By contrast, in 2019, India accounted for a measly 2.09% of US exports and 2.30% of total US imports.

Also, “India is experiencing its most severe economic slowdown in three decades,” the Washington Post reported in January:

At last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, India’s commerce minister assured global economic influencers that India’s economy was “poised to take off.” This rings true only because the vaunted Indian economy appears to be bottoming out, with no place to go but up.

But business has high hopes for the Indian market. Rivals Amazon and Walmart, for example, are investing heavily as they race for shares of India’s vast retail sector. “We think [India] is not just an important market for us, it’s the fifth most important and we think it’s going to become the third most important,” Coca Cola chairman and CEO James Quincey said in September 2019.

Modi is promising a bigger economy to foreign investors. “If you want to invest in a market where there is scale, come to India … If you want to invest in start-ups with a huge market, come to India … If you want to invest in one of the world’s largest infrastructure ecosystem, come to India,” he told CEOs.

India needs a way to pay for imports and to encourage investment. In effect, Indians want to trade India’s graduates to the United States in exchange for oil, food, weapons, and technology.

The workers-for-exports swap comes up in numerous trade meetings.

“In some of the meetings, I underlined our interest in ensuring that the flow of talent from India to the United States should not be obstructed and no unreasonable legislative provisions should constrain that,” India’s foreign minister told reporters. “That was the subject which also came up when I was at the White House,” said External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in mid-December.

In September 2018, the Indian foreign minister met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “I have requested Secretary Pompeo to adopt a balanced and sensitive view on the issue of proposed changes in the H-1 B visa regime as this could affect the people-to-people links, which are important for energizing ties,” the minister, Sushma Swaraj said in a press conference.

“We are happy that we are making very good progress on our trade package between our two sides,” India’s foreign minister said in January. “What we are really looking at is to engage in a long-term framework under which our two countries can provide preferential or free-market access to goods from each other’s countries,” Harsh Shringla said to a business group.

The Indian government’s exports-for-graduates policy is backed by U.S. and Indian business leaders who are trying to accelerate the flow of Indian workers into U.S. jobs.

In early 2020, Mukesh Aghi, the president of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, said:

When Donald Trump came to office, India’s trade surplus was $28 billion. In the last two years that has dropped to $20 billion. India has made a continuing effort for this. Large orders of planes and defense have been placed. A large part of the correction has happened in the energy sector. Three years ago, India was getting zero barrels of crude oil from the U.S.; today it’s 142,000 barrels a day.

In the last presidential election cycle, per capita, Indian Americans were the highest donors with 300 people giving as much as $35 million. But as a group we are disjointed … so many associations and groups. An effort has to be made to get them together; with a sledgehammer push every nail in to become one. We are 4 million Indian Americans, we need to be cohesive.

Another business group is the U.S. India Business Council that works under the U.S.  Chamber of Commerce.

The groups are also pushing the S.386 bill, which is sponsored by Utah’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Mike Lee. So far, Utah’s bill has been blocked in the Senate by GOP and Democratic senators who recognize it would suck college jobs from their states and votes from their election-day tallies.

But the White House has very limited political freedom to trade U.S. exports for Indian graduates, partly because Trump promised in 2016 that he would “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program.” Yet U.S. officials are using the H-1B prize to shape India’s trade policies. For example, U.S. officials reportedly threatened the loss of H-1B visas if India bars U.S. technology companies from exporting data on Indians’ buying practices outside India.

There is some evidence that DHS officials are denying visa requests by Indian companies, but there is little evidence that the Indian companies are not getting all the visas they need to match their business. More importantly, U.S. companies — including the Indian managers at those companies — are still importing Indian graduates for jobs sought by American graduates.

Trump and his deputies have given gifts to India. For example, they have protected the “H4EAD” program. The program gives work permits to the spouses of H-1B workers in the United States who are waiting ten years or more to get green cards. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency wrote a rule ending the program, which was introduced by President Barack Obama. But officials at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget blocked it amid lobbying by NASSCOM allies, who worried that unemployed wives would pressure H-1B workers to go back to India.

In January 2019, Trump also tweeted a suggestion that the huge population of roughly 700,000 Indians waiting for green cards might be able to get them quicker than scheduled.

But Trump needs Americans votes to get reelected in 2020 — and he wants to keep the support of his blue-collar base even after he retires. This means he has to zig-zag between his base and his business donors while each applies public and private pressures on him 24 hours s day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

So the danger of a betrayal rises in 2021, say the groups that defend American graduates from the U.S.-India Outsourcing Economy.

“American graduate have to organize now to push back the push for more work visa by Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce types,” said Larson at the American Workers Coalition. She continued:

American graduates need a seat at the bargaining table because there is no greater stakeholder than American graduates. They are the ones whose livelihood is at stake.

America’s economy and technological leads are also threatened by outsourcing to Indian companies, said Larson:

We’re talking about Americans’ collective intellectual property — [including the people with] Masters or PhDs in STEM fields — and they are getting displaced and being forced to train their foreign replacements with “knowledge transfers.” The collective IP belongs to America — it is not the property of Microsoft … it is a national treasure. We’re the country that has done wonderful engineering feats — the first man on the moon, the Hoover Dam … The speed with which we are losing American ingenuity is scary. Most people who voted for Trump thought he would do something about it. He seems to be selling out.

“The president needs to hear from his base … early and often,” said Daniel Horowitz, editor of Conservative Review:

Now is precisely the time to stand up and not stand down out of fear of pressuring the president. He wants to be pressured [by the base because] it is very hard for the president to go in one direction when 100 percent of the pressure inside the administration is headed in the other direction. The mistake that Trump supporters make is that they wait until it is too late and the president feels compelled to go with the swamp. The time to get to the president is early and often.


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