On the pretext that mass migration of low-skilled labour into the United States disproportionately harms “historically disadvantaged” Americans, US President Donald Trump has moved to “safeguard his own political interests in the name of saving native Americans’ employment”. At a time when the American unemployment has touched an all-time high of nearly 22 million (as on April 17), President Trump, who is already battling a “poor show tag’’ in handling the coronavirus outbreak, threatening his re-election bid to the White House, signed an executive order on Wednesday pausing immigration for 60 days to “protect the jobs of Americans laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. Any executive order banning immigration process in the US hits Indians hard, and naturally.
The nearly 4-million Indian-American diaspora is the fastest growing ethnic community in America and even among the 800,000 lined up for the green card as on date, nearly 560,000 are of the Indian origin. The order had given about 48 hours of anxiety and sleepless moments to many Indian-Americans in the line for green cards and also many possessing and in waiting for H1-B skilled workers visas. The suspense ended on Wednesday with the order putting a 60-day halt to immigration process seeking legal immigrant entry into the US (Green Card entry). The H1B category was exempted though.
Nevertheless, the immigration sword hangs beyond the 60-day period as the Trump Administration will review the situation. The White House in a statement said that this is a temporary pause demanded by the crisis being faced as a nation. “The pause will be in effect for 60 days, and the administration will continue to monitor the labour market to amend or extend the proclamation if needed,’’ it said. This is not good news for India as most of the 800,000 immigrants in line for a green card are Indian citizens. And the sheer size of Indians in line for green card make their wait longer due to country-wise capping. Immigrant attorneys say that due to the quotas that limit the number of workers from each country, Indians will have up to 50 years for a green card for their high numbers among immigrants in the US.
The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, has estimated that the executive order would stall nearly 26,000 green cards every month and nearly 52,000 over the 60-day period. Also, it’s should not be missed that the pandemic has already largely cut off immigration to the United States: countries have put border restrictions in place, visa services have been suspended, and refugee admissions are on pause, among other changes. There is nothing working as such related to immigration process for the last month or more. So, it is in fact more than 90-day immigration process blockade and it is surely souring many Indian dreams But that also brings into question the recent high-level exchanges between President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the last one year. Both leaders have sought to build a strong partnership based on friendship, trust and strong business relations. The two leaders have shown that onstage at glittering events like HowdyModi in Houston and NamasteTrump in Ahmedabad and Delhi.
The executive order, which puts brakes on Indians’ green card dreams and also puts in uncertainty the fate of many H1 B visa workers as the lay-offs will affect many, will not go well with Indians and in India. President Trump, who is trying to do anything to divert attention from his poor handling of corona, has done what he does best—play to the gallery and fan out nationalist fervour in the name of safeguarding American interest. Trump understands a point fully well that green cards are not going to vote. But in keeping H1 B visa or for that matter leaving student visa untouched, there is money involved as both bring huge monetary business to the US. Indians account for nearly 70% of the H1 B visas granted yearly. There are nearly 250,000 students of Indian origin on student visas. He fully understands these two verticals and cannot touch more as a lot of business with India is at stake.
But his re-election is most important to him at the moment and he’s not looking beyond that. He is playing the nationalist card the same way he had played the last time to penetrate into white American households. True, the latter are facing the worse from Covid-19 pandemic—losing jobs, faulting on mortgage payments, hunger and deaths in many households cutting the income hand. Trump has clearly said in his press briefing on Wednesday: “By pausing immigration, we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens. It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labour flown in from abroad.’’ Barring those Indians already on green cards and those under the exemption categories like the healthcare workers and those seeking to enter the US as a legal permanent resident under investment category, the ‘Big American Dream’ for many Indians is over, at least for the next 60 days.