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Let us keep an open mind

Debdeep Chakraborty throws light on US immigration reforms.

Let us keep an open mind
By 2055, the US will not have a single racial, or ethnic majority due to immigration, says an analysis released in March 2016 by the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center, a non-partisan American "fact tank". It seeks to inform the public about trends, issues, and attitudes shaping America and the world.

The analysis throws several startling facts and figures. The US has witnessed the arrival of 59 million immigrants in the last 50 years, mainly from Latin America and Asia, and today, approximately 14 per cent of the country's population is foreign born. In comparison, only 5 per cent of the US population was foreign born in 1965. It is projected that in the next five decades, a majority of the US population would be linked to new Asian and Hispanic immigration. In fact, Asia has replaced Latin America as the biggest source of new immigrants to the US, the analysis reveals. In 2015, Asians accounted for 26 per cent of the immigrant population in the US, and this is projected to grow to 38 per cent by 2065. Way back in 1965, Asians constituted just 5 per cent of the country's immigrant population while the Whites dominated with 80 per cent. The Hispanics and Blacks accounted for 14 per cent and 1 per cent respectively.

The analysis brings out one vital demographic trend in the US – the middle-income households no longer dominate the economy, and the gap between middle-income households and upper-income households in the country is widening. In 2015, US adults living in middle-income households fell to 50 per cent after serving as the nation's economic majority for over four decades. The analysis estimates that upper-income households hold 49 per cent of US aggregate household income, up from 29 per cent in 1970, and seven times as much wealth as middle-income households, up from three times as much in 1983.

While according to the analysis, the American public blames the indifference of political parties for the declining dominance of the middle class, it is debatable, and at the same time quite likely, that large-scale immigration, too, had a significant and direct contribution in shrinking the share of Americans living in middle-class households.

There has always been a raging debate over whether America was founded as a Christian nation or not. Without getting caught up in the midst of such a controversial issue, what can be safely said is that the idea of a Christian nation was and continues to be central to American identity. A Public Policy Polling survey released in February 2015 showed that 57 per cent of Republicans supported establishing Christianity as the national religion. Findings from Pew Research Center's 2014 Religious Landscape Study show that between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the US population fell from 78.4 per cent to 70.6 per cent. The share of public identifying with other religions, on the other hand, grew from 4.7 per cent in 2007 to 5.9 per cent in 2014 with Muslims witnessing maximum gain. The reasons for the fall in the country's Christian share of the population are many including generational replacement, which has driven the growth of the unaffiliated. However, what cannot be overlooked is that a fall in the share of Christian immigrants along with an increase in the percentage of immigrants adhering to non-Christian faiths also played a critical role in the decline of Christians in general population. Interestingly, Hindus and Jews are the most highly educated religious traditions in the US and in average have higher annual household incomes as compared to the country's overall population.

In a country where Christianity is strongly linked to national identity, the fall in the Christian share of the US population accompanied by the growth in the share of other religions along with widening disparities in education as well as annual incomes of Christians and non-Christians are bound to lead to social discontent and socio-political instability sooner or later.

It is not just American culture, values, demography, and religion that have been undergoing transformation due to a liberal immigration policy. Thanks to two distinct categories of US visa - H1-B and L-1 – many Americans lost their jobs to outsourcing companies, particularly based in India, since US companies found these companies more economically viable. While the H1-B visa has an annual cap, the L1-B visa has no such cap. The four most affected sectors in the US economy due to outsourcing are technology, call centres, human resources, and manufacturing. It has been widely reported that several US-based companies, taking advantage of the country's visa policy, took away jobs from Americans and passed them on to foreign outsourcing companies, both onshore and offshore, in a bid to multiply their profits. If this is indeed true, US President Donald J Trump's decision to carry out comprehensive immigration reforms, which is very likely to include a change in the H1-B visa scheme to protect local jobs, can hardly be termed unfair.

In the last US Presidential elections, immigration was a major issue and proved to be highly divisive. In fact, President Trump's hard and uncompromising stance on immigration became known long before the actual elections when he unveiled during campaigning his plans to build a wall on the US-Mexico border and make Mexico pay for it, deport criminal aliens from the country, detain illegal aliens caught crossing the border and send them back home, increase penalties for overstaying visa, protect the interests of the American worker, increase prevailing wage of H-1Bs and ensure that companies hire from the domestic pool of human resources. The move to reform the country's immigration policy, primarily with the aim to emphasise the idea of 'America First', is presently facing intense criticism, not just in the US but across the globe. While nobody questions people's right to criticise or seek clarifications with regard to the policy, the larger issue that needs to be understood and recognised here is that the US as a sovereign nation, just like any other sovereign nation, has the absolute right to carry out reforms to suit its requirements and protect its own interests – economic, cultural, religious, and/or overall security of the country.

Critics of the recently initiated immigration reforms argue that the US is a land of immigrants and that immigration drives its economy and generates a large number of jobs within the country. True, but it also has to be acknowledged that a country's requirement of immigrants is dynamic and changes with time due to a range of factors. It can't be disputed either that a country's immigration policy is always strongly linked to its national security. Hence, if looked at objectively, most of the criticisms aimed at President Trump's move to closely align the immigration policy to US interests, taking into account the changing global environment among other factors, seem to be too harsh and in some cases, unfair.

The $150 billion Indian IT sector has been on the edge ever since Trump assumed office as US President. Faced with the high possibility of curbs on H-1B visas, Indian IT companies are busy these days trying to protect their turf by lobbying hard with the US administration. Since Indian IT workers receive the highest number of H-1B visas, it is not surprising that the IT companies don't want any change in the present H-1B visa programme. While seeking status quo, these companies point out that Indian talent had been enriching the American economy for decades. However, this argument is unlikely to cut any ice with most of the US lawmakers.

The H-1B visa programme was originally designed to bring highly skilled and specialised foreign workers into the US with the objective of enabling American companies to grow, generate more jobs and expand the economy. However, over the years, many global outsourcing companies have been abusing the system, in the process adversely impacting the interests of the American worker and derailing the immigration system. Trying to convince those thousands of Americans who have already lost their livelihood to foreign workers, as well as those that continue to face the threat of losing theirs due to the same reason, about the economic benefits that US will derive in the long term if the H-1B visa programme is allowed to continue in its current form, will undoubtedly be an exercise in futility.

There is no doubt that any change in the H-1B visa programme aimed at placing curbs will dent the Indian IT sector, which earns around 65 per cent of its revenues from the US. Indian IT companies should have known from the beginning that the growth strategy adopted by them would eventually lead to over dependence on a single overseas market, and hence inherently has risks. The only option that remains for the sector at this time is to turn its focus inwards and begin developing the domestic market. Alongside, it could also attempt to tap the Chinese market, which is currently witnessing a significant rise in tech jobs, without of course becoming too reliant on it.

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)
Debdeep Chakraborty

Debdeep Chakraborty

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