Indian tech companies have taken a big share-price hit this week, as confusion reigns over US President Donald Trump’s attempts to curtail immigration amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Trump has already issued a 60-day ban on so-called “green cards” – a route open mostly to family members of those already in the country. He has also signaled an intention to suspend the skilled H1-B visa program, over two-thirds of whose holders are Indian.
A draft executive order reported by Bloomberg would require current H1-B visa holders to provide updated information proving they are not displacing American workers. Some sources suggest that over a quarter of H1-B holders may be forced to return home amid COVID-19-related layoffs.
A reported backlash within the White House, reportedly led by the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has thus far kept attempts to ostracize foreign tech, medical and agricultural visa holders on the backburner. Industry leaders have also slammed the move.
Yet the value of leading Indian tech firms such as Infosys and Tech Mahindra fell by up to six percent on Mumbai’s National Stock Exchange upon news of the potential changes. Most Indian experts expect further problems amid the nation’s own Coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed 640 lives to date.
A spokesperson from USCIS, the US government’s agency handling immigration, said the branch would continue “to analyze issues and other possible steps the agency may take to further address some of these challenges and will consider the public’s recommendations.” Trump has long assailed the H1-B program, and made it a part of his 2016 election platform.
With a crisis that has so far forced over 22m Americans to file for unemployment, it is once again in the President’s crosshairs. But Jason Oxman, president and CEO of leading tech trade association ITI, came out yesterday against a ban.
“Tech workers—whether from the United States or another country—are playing an essential role in America’s response to COVID-19,” said Oxman. “They will be vital to the U.S. economic recovery and must remain part of the workforce. We urge President Trump not to endanger the country’s economic recovery by closing its economy to the rest of the world.”
Trump’s green card ban has already been met with derision among human-rights and economic experts. The program, introduced in 1952, permits residence to foreign nationals many of whom face humanitarian hardship in their home nation. Almost one million green cards were issued in 2019, which constitutes around 0.3% of the nation’s population.
“We must first take care of the American worker,” tweeted Trump yesterday, ignoring scientific consensus that immigration boosts the American economy overall.