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Throughout human history poverty and conflict have been our perpetual twin curses. Poverty has always taken its toll in one part of the world or another. Peace and war have always gone hand in hand. They have been constant companions, almost never to be separated. It has been as if one won’t recognise and appreciate wealth without poverty and peace without war. Being an ancient civilisation India has witnessed and lived through it all. Sometimes it is the allure of faraway lands, but most often it is poverty and scarcity, absolute or relative, that makes Indians, just like other human beings, search for greener pastures.
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It happened to me too. I left India at 18, in 1964. I was selfish. I didn’t occur to me then. But like hundreds of millions who have always loved and lived in India, I too could have stayed, and in hindsight I should have, to fight the myriad life and death battles for the economy, politics and the soul of India. I didn’t. That makes me a fugitive of India’s battles that still rage in its bosom. But I never for a moment thought it was the government’s job to help me leave. Had I not been able to leave, I wouldn’t have expected India or any Indian to shed tears for me. In my humble life in the country, with my village education, I wasn’t exactly the God’s gift to any place; my departure was good riddance, one less mouth for India to have to feed.
One thing we can all agree upon is the solemn obligation of each country to provide opportunities for its people and particularly its best and brightest on whom it has spent more of its scarce tax revenues. But it can never be India’s duty to facilitate the exodus of the highly trained Indians to foreign shores. First and foremost India’s obligation is to reduce and eventually end the economic deprivation and social injustice in India. The best and the brightest can and must become part of the sorely needed economic, political and cultural renaissance in the country.
Recently there has been a lot of hullabaloo–a steady stream of Indian IT firms expressing concerns about what might be in store for the H1B visas in the excessively protectionist Trump Administration. The IT firms and H1B aspirants are urging the government to lobby the US on their behalf. The government says it is on top of the issue and it has been in touch with the highest possible US officials in this regard.
A good part of the IT industry’s profitability in the US hinges on the significantly lower wages paid to the H1B holders that it imports from India and other countries; it relies on this ready pool of cheap labour of India’s best and brightest ferried into the USA on board the H1Bs–until they get their green cards and move on; then the IT companies apply for more H1B holders from India to refill the annually vacated positions–as people move from ‘slave’ labour to the open labour market.
The government of India’s tax revenues from the Indian IT firms are partly driven by and derived from the aforementioned aspiring minds ‘slaving’ in the US as cheap labour. Those ‘slaving’ on relatively low wages are the best and the brightest of India, educated and trained in institutes and universities funded by a relatively poor India–with much sought after Indian tax Rupees. And strangely enough, after being trained with relatively scarce Indian resources, they want the government to help them leave; and the government is distraught that they may not be able to leave or in as large a number as before; only in India, eh.
Several years ago some Indian politicians used to see it as a thing of pride to be able to train software professionals and ‘export’ them. Even now the government of India is prepared to go to bat for the H1B aspirants wanting to leave India. It is prepared to lobby the US government to encourage it to take India’s best and brightest. I say shame on the government. I have witnessed governments working hard to increase a country’s export of goods, services, art and culture. Never in the history of modern world have I seen governments, except of some banana-republics, urging other countries to take their best trained human assets who have the potential to be the engines of economic growth and prosperity in the country.
I vehemently disagree with Trump on many things including his xenophobic ban on Muslims from certain countries. But I wouldn’t argue with him on H1Bs, encourage or discourage him about changing or restricting them. Each country has the right to allow as many workers into the country as it may choose. Good, bad or ugly, that is a decision any sovereign country has the right to make.
The IITians and others in search of greener pastures are free to pursue H1B or other visas to the countries of their choice. But the Indian IT companies in the US in pursuit of cheap Indian labour–at least for the six years it takes H1Bs to get the green card–need to finally wake up and step into the 21st Century. The Indian H1B software professionals are akin to the indentured labourers of yore– the modern world’s most highly qualified indentured labourers making the IT firms employing them modern slave owners.
In the early 20th Century in Canada and the USA our ancestors and other immigrants such as the Chinese used to be paid one third to one half less than the white Canadians and Americans doing the same or similar work. Our ancestors fought hard to change that. H1B pay differential is the modern equivalent of those less than equal wages of the long ago past.
Over the last couple of centuries, many Indians had gone to places such as Fiji and the West Indies as indentured labourers. That never solved India’s economic problems. Exporting ‘cheap’ software professionals on low wages won’t solve them either. India shouldn’t be lobbying the US or any other government on behalf the modern slave owners or would be indentured labourers. What the government of India needs is a plan to build and rebuild a greater India. For that plan to succeed it must create opportunities for its people, its best and brightest, at home to develop and grow the Indian industry, commerce, technology and arts. Let Trump ‘make America great again’ without the cheap and indentured labour of India’s best and brightest–the highly skilled and trained Indians.