New Delhi watches silently
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi has refrained from discussing the issue publicly, Indian officials have expressed disappointment, saying that US companies based in India will be affected. Members of the prime minister’s cabinet have also voiced concerns.
Indian professionals in the US are strong contributors to the American economy, they note, and thus to the global economy.
The result of the move, it is hinted, could be a trade war between the countries.
The rise of multinational Indian tech firms such as Infosys, Tata, Cognizant, and Wipro (leading the IT outsourcing Indian industry valued at US$150 billion) have employed a generation of well-educated workers.
Other Indian IT professionals migrated to the US, filling, among other positions, a large labour gap in that country’s surging technology market. Indian Americans now represent the second largest diaspora in the US, totalling two million citizens.
A pro-Trump “model minority”
A majority of these Indian American citizens identify as Democrats but during the 2016 presidential election, a small and highly visible minority of Republicans emerged.
The grassroots initiative “Hindus for Trump” and the policy-oriented Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC) both openly endorsed Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 election. The RHC acts as an advocacy organisation to be the “bridge between the Hindu-American community and Republican policymakers and leaders” on issues pertinent to the US and India, such as trade and political relations, as well as security cooperation on Islamic extremist terrorism.
Chicago-based industrialist and billionaire Shalabh Kumar, who has been dubbed “Trump’s favourite Hindu”, is the co-founder of the RHC along with the Republican Newt Gingrich, a former congressional leader and presidential hopeful. Kumar, a prominent Trump booster, donated $US1 million to Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Recently, Kumar was named by the weekly India Today as one of the top 20 “global Indians”, and has an ear in the White House as part of the Asian Pacific American Advisory Committee and the National Committee of Asian American Republicans.
At a February 2017 press conference, Kumar assured reporters that there would be no executive order on H1-B visas and that, to the contrary, the number of migrant workers would increase. He has yet to make a public statement about the Trump administration’s recent decision.
This situation highlights the tension Trump has faced at many moments in his young administration: in appealing to his nativist American base, he alienates other key demographics. The H1-B order may turn off wealthy Indian American Republicans, who are potential political and business allies.
It could also hurt the US economy. The Hindustan Times says that a significant number of Indians living in the US may now be looking for a job “back home”.
Donald Trump has invited Narendra Modi to visit the US later this year. It remains to be seen whether a trip (to, presumably, Mar-a-Lago) will help smooth the H1-B waters between these two “true friends”.