10 years ago, in mid-July of 2006, Indian techies in the US went on a sick-in strike in large numbers.
Techies reported sick to work because as per regulations foreign contract workers were prohibited from going on a strike. The idea of the strike was to get the attention of the Bush administration towards the entrapment and the involuntary servitude of Indian techies that are tied to their work visa sponsored employer. American companies overlooked the treatment meted out to foreign contract workers and the government policies further made them vulnerable. Abusing the rights of foreign workers by underpaying or not paying them at all was alarmingly rampant and eventually spreading across the United States like a contagious disease. Qualified American workers were being displaced in large numbers and foreign workers themselves could not execute their rights!
The purpose of the strike, however, was not to oppose or revolt against the government, rather was an attempt to be heard – to be included and be a part of the inclusive growth.
As I sat, alongside my American colleagues testifying against the indentured nature of the visa program in Capital Hill, the need to bridge the growing digital divide was acknowledged.
Shortly, the first bipartisan H-1B and L-1 visa reform bill was introduced by Senators Durbin and Grassley. This was 10 years ago and the digital divide continued to get worse.
Today, things are entirely different. President-elect Donald Trump has finally given a stern warning. He has promised, "he’ll end forever the use of the H-1B visa as a cheap labour program” – specifically by offshore companies profiting by abusing the visa program. He plans to work with the Republican Senator Grassley, who in 2007, had proposed the H-1B and L-1 Visa reform bill – ‘The H-1B and L-1 Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act’. In his words, Senator Grassley says -“We’re closing loopholes that employers have exploited by requiring them to be more transparent about their hiring and we’re ensuring more oversight of these visa programs to reduce fraud and abuse.” The central theme of the proposal, therefore, was to once again restore the ‘Good faith in hiring’ by giving the right to a job to American workers first, before petitioning for an alien worker from abroad’.
The idea of national solidarity today is dependent on International Cooperation. True solidarity begins with the solitary (H-1B worker) and Uncle Sam has alienated foreign contract workers for
over two decades to create a humongous digital divide between two classes of workers – those with rights, and those without.
Under Mr Trump’s leadership, efforts will be made to restrict foreign companies from petitioning alien workers for a work visa. Because companies have been underpaying their sponsored employees; the resulting labour arbitrage has been favourable in displacing American workers from employment.
Donald Trump, however, is in favour of the H-1B visa program. He has advocated increasing the prevailing wage paid to the H-1B workers . The idea to increase the minimum prevailing wage of the H-1B workers is to bridge the wage discrimination divide between local and guest workers; thus increasing salaries and making the labour market more competitive. Raising the prevailing wage for foreign workers would also make the ‘brokerage of talent’ less favourable to companies solely dependent on H-1B workers.
Increasing the prevailing wage will have two immediate benefits on the American labor market – one, it will reward ‘foreign talent not available locally’, thus restoring the original mandate of the H-1B visa program; and will give the entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and resident workers in the U.S. allowing African Americans, Hispanic and female workers who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program.
Mr Trump has also recognised America’s need for high-skilled foreign workers, especially in the STEM fields, and has specifically mentioned Indian students, while saying smart foreign students educated in the US should be allowed to remain, work, and be given a path to citizenship.
While evaluating proposals for immigration reform –security, equality, family and community are the watchwords used by human rights activists. And any proposals that deny people their rights or benefits because of their visa status moves away from equality. Forthcoming visa reforms promises to treat guest workers with respect and dignity.
(*This article was first published on Times of India Blog. You can find the link here.)
About the Author:
Rajiv Dabhadkar - Rajiv has over 25 years of experience in education and technology sectors. Rajiv has lived in the United States for more than a decade helping large companies deal movement of global talent. Rajiv has been a proponent of migration for over a decade and has actively moved forward the debate on Indo-American work visa related migration policies. He is the Founder of The National Organisation for Software and Technology Professionals, in 2004. He has authored two books – "American Work Permit – Official Rules & Regulations of American Work Visa" and "Green Carrot – America's Work Visa Crisis". He is interviewed in over 200 articles in over 30 leading publications both in India as well as the United States. He has testified against the work visa program abuse and assisted in the drafting of the 'Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act of 2007' to prevent visa misuse and document fraud in the immigration process. His research work has been cited by the UK Border Agency as well as the US Homeland Security.