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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Explained Ideas: What’s behind US’ H1-B visa freeze?

Anxiety about the unintended consequences of the Nationality and Immigration Act of 1965 is the driving force behind the politics of immigration in the US, says Sanjib Baruah.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: July 6, 2020 7:53:59 am
H1-B visa, H1-B visa banned, Donald Trump, Trump bans H-1B visa, US immigration visa, Indian Express President Donald Trump waves as he arrives on Air Force One at Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo: Evan Vucci, File)

The US decision last month to temporarily stop issuing H-1B and H-4 visas — along with a slew of previously announced restrictions on legal immigration — impacts India more than any other country.

In his June 22 proclamation, President Donald Trump also expanded and extended halts to the issuance of a few other types of visas. They include non-immigrant visas for family members of US citizens and certain lawful permanent residents, L-1 and L-2 visas used for intra-company transfer of high-level executives to US offices with the highest share going to Indian nationals in 2019, and the freeze on green cards — permanent residence authorisation — for new immigrants.

The curbs have been justified on grounds of giving priority to American workers as the economy recovers from the effects of the pandemic.

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But, Sanjib Baruah, Professor of Political Studies at Bard College, New York, in his latest piece in The Indian Express, asserts that “it is more likely that the pandemic is being used as cover to give a final push — before the November elections — to efforts already underway to harden channels of legal immigration.”

Several prominent corporate leaders with immigrant roots such as Elon Musk have criticised Trump’s decision, reiterating the argument that immigration is good for US economic prosperity.

“But political debates over immigration are rarely about cost-benefit appraisals. Politicians often prioritise values associated with putative ideas about a fixed national identity over economic gains,” writes Baruah.

He then explains the importance of the Nationality and Immigration Act of 1965 in the US. “Prior to it, there were restrictions on the immigration of Indians — and of most other Asians…The new law replaced the national origin quotas with a racially blind distribution of visas, with preferences based on family relationships and skills subject to caps for individual countries,” he writes.

H1-B visa, H1-B visa banned, Donald Trump, Trump bans H-1B visa, US immigration visa The curbs have been justified on grounds of giving priority to American workers as the economy recovers from the effects of the pandemic. (Getty Images)

Without the 1965 law, it is unlikely that the talk of multiculturalism would have found such resonance in late 20th century US public culture. But there was a significant unintended consequence: “That the law would initiate successive waves of “chain migration” was not anticipated… (and) as much as two-thirds of legal immigration to the US is now based on family reunification”.

Baruah states that “anxiety about the unintended consequences of the 1965 law is the driving force behind the politics of immigration in the US during this century. It has shaped the worldview of key architects of Trump’s immigration policies”.

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