The list of U.S. President Donald Trump’s attacks on the inflow of skilled foreign workers into the country continues to expand rapidly, with the latest salvo from the White House seeking to potentially prevent such workers from participating in any federal government contracts indefinitely. The executive order signed by Mr. Trump specifically targets the H-1B visa as one that purportedly results in the loss of jobs to U.S. persons owing to cheap foreign labour. Indian nationals tend to be granted 60-70% or more of visas in this category annually, which implies that the potential impact of this order on IT and ITES firms based in India could be considerable, and produce a ripple effect in the bilateral economic space. Notwithstanding the sense of shock that this order is likely to cause among those in corporate India who invest in the U.S. economy and create jobs there, it should hardly come as a surprise given the steady tightening of the screws on the U.S. immigration paradigm during the final months of the Trump administration. Even in April 2020 the White House announced that it would be suspending the issuance of green cards, effectively halting legal migration into the U.S. In June 2020, the immigration crackdown was extended via an order to stop processing new visas across several skilled worker categories, including H-1B visas. While the latest order avoids the language of an outright ban on foreign workers joining federal government contracts, it calls for a review of contracting and hiring practices by federal agencies, with a focus on foreign temporary workers and U.S. government-related services that were offshored to foreign countries.
To an extent, it is understandable that the weight of performance expectations that rests upon Mr. Trump’s shoulders is of immense magnitude. The economy, which was in fine fettle until the COVID-19 pandemic struck, appears to be grinding to a halt, with an expected surge in unemployment numbers to nearly 18 million jobless people. To describe the U.S. government’s response to the pandemic crisis as tepid, bumbling, and wrong-headed would be generous. There is a high possibility that voters may punish Mr. Trump on November 3, 2020. However, instead of striking a positive note about finding the U.S.’s greatest source of economic resilience in the diversity of its people, Mr. Trump has steadily retreated deeper into the morass of hateful tropes about immigrants stealing jobs. This may well strike a chord with his core support base of blue-collar workers across middle America who are undeniably in economic pain, but it does little to repair the damage done since 2016 to the fabric of American society. Bitter polarisation is a perennial trait of the political landscape of the U.S., but it has rarely ever been as exacerbated as in the last four years.