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H-1B, Other Visa Bans A Green Card For Innovation In India: Expat Entrepreneurs

NEW DELHI: This week, the White House blocked the entry of several categories of foreign workers until the year-end, in a new presidential proclamation. The measures also expand President Trump’s April 22 executive order denying green cards to applicants in several immigrant visa categories. On Talking Point, Vivek Wadhwa, academic, author and entrepreneur in San Francisco and Sanjay Suri, Chairman, U.S.-India Political Action Committee and entrepreneur in Washington, D.C. speak to StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi on the impact on Indian jobs in America and on innovation in both countries.

Professor Wadhwa argues that President Donald Trump’s political posturing in an election year damages more in its xenophobic message of closed doors than the legislation hurts foreign, especially Indian job-seekers, because the pandemic means fewer people are travelling anyway. But, he says, the U.S. is losing the opportunity to refocus on incentivising innovation in the country. China, he says, has been ‘able to capture knowledge through training in the U.S., industrial scale stealing of trade secrets and getting skilled people to go back to innovate’. That’s why, the author of 4 bestsellers including The Immigrant Exodus(2002) says, ‘America is panicked about 5G and is going all over the world trying to get companies and countries not to buy from China.’

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Sanjay Puri, who is also the founding head of the Alliance For U.S. India Business (AUSIB) emphasises the huge economic jolt the U.S. is going through with unemployment at 20-25 per cent. Election year, he says, means few will politically stand up against the restrictions on foreign skilled workers. But he points to ‘the irony that a lot of people on the frontline against COVID-19 are those who came in through the immigration process, whether doctors, physicians, health workers or those working to develop a vaccine’. The only solution to driving innovation in and bias out, he says, is ‘to make this an innovation, not immigration debate because when you call it an immigration issue, nothing happens on Capitol Hill.’ Professor Wadhwa says the solution is ‘to reframe the whole immigration debate in the light of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and call it out as systemic country-wise racism’. While both panelists agree the move won’t drastically alter a closer U.S.-India alignment to counter an aggressive China, Dr Wadhwa concludes that while the restrictions hit America’s remaining competitive advantages further, it’s ‘an opportunity for Indian IT to reinvent itself and not send people abroad, so they can improve their margins’. In terms of homegrown innovation, it is ‘actually a win that Donald Trump has given Modi’.