US President Donald Trump is yet to unroll the 'America First' doctrine. But worryingly for India, Democrats are competing with him in imposing restrictions on low-cost foreign IT workers. The US House of Representatives has taken up a Bill for reforming H-1B visas. Indians account for one lakh such visas every year, besides another 1.25 lakh that are renewed.
The sponsor of the Bill is a veteran Democrat representing the Silicon Valley, indicating that the notion of Indian 'cyber-coolies' is widespread. Officially, the Indian government has withheld comment because similar Bills in the past have sunk into oblivion. But deep inside there must be considerable concern.
Currently, the US President is beyond the call of reason. In due course, he will appreciate that trade in services with India is not a one-way street. If India raked in $19 billion from the US last year, the corresponding figure was $12 billion. This is set to increase because of $28 billion US investment in this sector. Trump will also not be unaware that India's $25 billion annual trade surplus in goods with the US may shrink. His predecessor has set the stage for increased US involvement in India's infrastructure sector and energy supplies, both fossil and solar based.
If those are not enough reasons to go slow on clamping down on H-1B visas, three of Trump's Cabinet picks were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, the very section that has benefited the most from low-cost IT labour from India. Would they not be counselling their President against such a move? On the world stage, the US needs India because of its tensions with Pakistan and China and close ties with Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia.
The Obama days will not return anytime soon when India's trade surplus and work visas had doubled. While fighting to retain the quota of H-1B visas, India will also have to take a call on how long its corporates will make money on the back of modestly paid techies.
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