Mobility of the skilled is not immigration

Aug 08 2014, 00:30 IST
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SummaryThe restrictive provisions of the US’s Immigration Bill threaten not just Indian IT but also the American companies dependent on it

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to India last week was keenly watched as it was seen as the prelude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in September. Kerry spoke about the India-US transformational partnership and the imperative to build closer ties between the two allies.

One remark from Kerry that could be a reason for cheer for the Indian IT industry was his acknowledgment of the need for changing some of the discriminatory provisions of the US Immigration Bill and ensuring more people are able to travel and support commerce, education, etc. Kerry also stated that while the Bill is very important to the US, it is highly unlikely that it will move in the next few months. This is the first time there is acknowledgment from a high-ranking US official on the need for changing the Bill and addressing the concerns that the Indian IT industry has been expressing.

Investing well over $5 billion in the US in the recent years, India-based IT companies have been a key element in supporting the US’s leadership in business and industry. Indo-US business

partnerships have

matured over the decades. According to the US Deputy

Secretary of State, William J Burns, bilateral trade is likely to have exceeded $100 billion in 2013.

In spite of the raging rhetoric on outsourcing, US policy had followed a carefully calibrated approach to address the shortage of skilled IT workers in the country by balancing immigration with various measures to encourage citizens to take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and training. In part, this has given US businesses access to workers on temporary visas to provide highly skilled support for projects, for whatever length of time, as per requirements. This balanced approach has been crucial to the growing American economy, while also benefiting the Indian IT and economy.

Certain provisions in the Senate Immigration Bill 744, as passed in June 2013, could upset this balance, to the detriment of US companies, employment and economy as also Indian IT. Access to the best technological solutions, with on-site support in the US, would be restricted or will become more costly. Many American companies would be forced to move more IT operations overseas, thereby eroding jobs in the domestic market and tax revenue. Other businesses will have no choice but to cancel programmes, pass up market opportunities and reduce plans for growth because skilled IT support

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