Biden Administration Lobbied on H-1B Suspension

Washington DC: A top India-centric American business advocacy group has urged the incoming Biden administration to ease the restrictions on H-1B visas and provide green cards to higher education students with science and mathematics degrees to meet the increasing demand for IT professionals in the country.

On December 31, outgoing US President Donald Trump extended a freeze on the most sought-after H-1B visas along with other types of foreign work visas by three months to March 31, affecting a large number of Indian IT professionals who were issued visas by the US government for the fiscal year 2021.

President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, has promised to lift the suspension on H-1B visas, saying Trump’s immigration policies are cruel.

“It is more of a legislative issue. We have basically recommended to the Biden administration, one, is ease up the H-1B (visa), but at the same time, every STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) PhD graduating, should be given a Green Card, so that they stay and contribute from day one as a taxpayer and also to the growth of the economy,” Mukesh Aghi, president of US-India Strategic and Partnership Forum told PTI in an interview.

“That’s the position, we still are very supportive of. And I think the sentiment seems to be the same with the Biden administration,” said Aghi, based on the interactions he has had with members of the Biden Transition Team.

Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated as the 46th US President on January 20.

Responding to a question, Aghi said the number of H-1B visas issued every year should be driven by the market demands.

At this point of time, the current figure of 65,000 H-1B visas in addition to another 20,000 to those foreign nationals with graduation from a US university is quite inadequate to meet the huge demand of IT professionals in the US, he noted.

Currently there is a shortage of 1 million IT professionals in the US. At the same time, he asserted, there is a need to ensure that the local job environment continues.

Supporting the farm laws in India, Aghi said the three new legislations recently enacted are “the right thing to do.”

Today the farmer in India gets 24 cents to a dollar for his produce, he said.

In the era of technology, farmers need to have choices to be able to sell their produce to ‘mandis’ or to be able to sell to other geographies as well.

The farm bill provides farmers with such an option, he explained. “It is just providing choices and in any economy choices are healthy. At the same time, if somebody is protesting diverse choices, in a peaceful manner, then we support it,” he said.

But at the end of the day, in an agriculture-based economy, one has to figure out how to double the farmers’ income, expand job creation and improve productivity.

“We strongly believe the farm bill supports that vision. People will object to it, but that’s normal in a good democracy,” he said.

Aghi said the Covid-19 crisis and the current change in administration in the US provides India an opportunity to look at the Biden administration in a positive manner.

“The crisis with China has brought to India the message that ‘we will not treat you as an equal partner’; sends a message to the leadership in India to look at the Biden Administration in a very, very positive manner,” he said.

“It also sends a message to the Biden Administration that with the current scenario, which is a geopolitical one, India can be a reliable partner; India can stand up to the threat of aggressive China, which no other country has stood up to. Both countries have a common factor here,” Aghi said.

“So, I think the current Covid-19 crisis where India can play a strong role in the vaccine production on producing cheaper generic drugs, not only for the US, but worldwide provides an equal partnership. I think India and the Biden administration will reach out to each other and come with some kind of an understanding early on, rather than waiting on and making sure that there is a win-win partnership here,” Aghi said.

US lawmakers on Thursday formally certified Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election — clearing the way for his inauguration on January 20. Republican Vice President Mike Pence certified the Electoral College count of 306 electors in favour of the Democrat against 232 in favour of outgoing Republican President Donald Trump. The tally followed the disruption of Congress.