by Noah D'Mello

What the US presidential candidates have to say about the H-1B program

Aug 19, 2015
GovernmentLegalManaged Cloud Services

The US general election is picking up pace, and most of the Republican and Democratic candidates have taken stands on the H-1B program, which can deeply affect the Indian IT sector.

Come November 2016, and America will vote for its next president. The elections may seem distant today, but the handful of Democratic candidates and more than a dozen Republican candidates have started campaigning in full swing and putting forth policies on various issues such as racism, same-sex marriage, and foreign relations. But one aspect that the Indian tech industry will closely follow is the candidates’ stand on legal immigration and the H-1B visa program.

In a recent report by Computerworld, India hogged a major share of the H-1B visa pie, with 86 percent of the visas issued against Indians. The current law limits 65,000 foreign nationals who may be issued visas each fiscal year. An additional 20,000 foreign nationals holding degrees from US universities are also entitled to this visa. However, with the recent cases of Disney, where American workers were replaced with low-wage Indian nationals, the issue is now becoming a talking point for candidates from both the national parties.

Earlier this week, Republican candidate Donald Trump announced his reform plan on immigration, which hinted that corporations will find it expensive to employ overseas employees in technology companies. Trump, who seemed a very unlikely candidate for the top job at the start of the election season but is now leading in every major poll, said this move will increase the number of jobs for minority groups such as blacks, Hispanics and women.

“Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the US, instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas,” wrote Trump.

Trump is not the only Republican who is a sharp critic for the H-1B program. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did an “Olympics-quality flip-flop” when he changed his stance on legal migration for the upcoming 2016 general election and came out strongly against it.

“In terms of legal immigration, how we need to approach that going forward is saying–the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages,” Walker said in an interview with radio host Glenn Beck in April. “It is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today–what is this doing for American workers looking for jobs, what is this doing to wages, and we need to have that be at the forefront of our discussion going forward.”

This hard-hitting stance by Walker may position the Republican party further to the right than that by Mitt Romney’s immigration stance during the 2012 general elections.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also came out strongly against the recent Disney case. He was the first Republican presidential candidate to highlight the issue of H-1B visa abuse.

“I’m not against immigration. Our country has been made strong by the people who came here. But we focus too much on how many people are coming—I think the focus needs to be on why people are coming,” Huckabee said in an interview with Breitbart News Sunday.

However, not all Republican candidates have positioned themselves to be against legal immigration. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has co-sponsored the “I-squared” bill, which aims at increasing the cap for H-1B visa entrants along with their spouses and families. If this bill is passed, it would triple number of temporary guest workers in the US

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz once proposed an immediate increase in the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 325,000. This was offered as an amendment in 2013 to the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill.

Similar to the Republicans, the views on legal immigration among the Democratic candidates are somewhat divided, especially among the top two contenders for the nomination. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running against former First Lady Hillary Clinton, is also against the idea of increasing the cap for H-1B visas, although he is not seen to be as vocal as Trump.

Sanders doesn’t agree to the fact that corporations cannot find skilled labor in the country. “What I think they are interested in is seeing a process by which we can bring low-wage labor of all levels into this country to depress wages,” Sanders said in a session hosted by US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

However, former Secretary of State and frontrunner Hillary Clinton has not clearly given a stance on the H-1B visa program in this election campaign. But going back to 2007, Clinton said, “I also want to reaffirm my commitment to the H-1B visa program and to increase the current cap. Foreign skilled workers contribute greatly to our US technological development.”

For now, the H-1B visa program looks like a mixed bag for the Indian IT sector, which is the largest contributor to the H-1B program. India’s information technology and outsourcing industry, which earns billions of dollars by sending highly skilled Indian workforce to the US, will have to wait and watch what the US general election has in store for them.