Shrewd move against India
America is moving ahead with CAATSA, revoking H-4 visa as India sits on a corner post the S-400 deal, elaborates Arun Srivastava
Abandoning the Obama-era rule of granting work permits to H-4 visa holders, mostly Indians, who are spouses of professionals holding H-1B visas, is the first major move to make India bend to the wishes of President Trump. Soft measures against India were on the card from the day New Delhi entered into an agreement with Russia for the supply of S-400.
Before this, at least on two occasions the US tried to implement this policy but refrained under the pressure of Indian supporters and caucus. On all occasions, the US administration came out with the argument that it would benefit US workers, but never forced it. But this time it just went ahead. Though the Modi government was aware of the Trump move, it could not pressurise the Trump administration to rethink.
Under the existing rule, spouses of thousands of immigrant workers become eligible to work while in the US. The move to end the rule would impact more than 1,00,000 H-4 visa holders, who have work permits.
This is a shrewd move. The Modi government cannot complain of discriminatory economic action against Indian immigrants. The Trump administration has pushed the Modi government to the corner by arguing it would provide job opportunities to the Americans, one of Trump's main election promises.
The Trump administration plans to implement the decision by January 2019 and "revise" the definition of employment and speciality occupations under the US H-1B visas. The move would badly hit Indian IT companies in the US and small and medium-sized contractual firms, mostly owned by Indian-Americans. H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has already delayed issuing of the necessary notification three times this year, said in its agenda that it was on its way to remove H-4 dependent spouses from getting work authorisation. What is worse is the proposed rule would no longer allow H-4 workers to enter the labour market early.
Preventing women from engaging in employment will lead to isolation, depression, anxiety, and loss of self-worth. This will force a huge number of immigrants to quit their jobs and go back to India. Revoking a wife's ability to work leaves her and her children entirely dependent on her spouse.
Even the US rights activists feel that Trump is undoing the H-4 spouse work authorisation decision taken by the previous Obama administration to screw India and make it succumb to his dictates.
Before initiating this action Trump had signed an executive order, paving the way for slapping crippling sanctions on countries and individuals violating the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Trump cautioned India just after S-400 defence deal with Russia "India will soon find out my decision". Under CAATSA sanctions, amended early this year, only Trump has the authority to waiver to India on weapons deal with sanctions-hit Russia.
Meanwhile, White House officials hold that the US presidential waiver on weapons deal with sanctions-hit Russia is intended to "wean" countries like India off the Russian influence. Trump is also planning to go for a major cut in imports from India. The strategy is to put a soft noose around India and wait for the reaction.
Trump was ready to slap sanctions but the senior officials of the foreign ministry and White House prevailed upon him to wait. Their logic was that in the event of sanctions, the US will be friendless in Southeast Asia. In the election year, Narendra Modi would not cherish this nature of action from America, which claims to have a special bilateral relationship with India. Under no circumstances can the US rely on Pakistan. Any move to slap sanction would prove to be counter-productive for the US. Nevertheless, it is the sense of personal loss of prestige that has been hurting Trump.
Instead of taking India head on, as he did in the case of Russia, Trump is seriously contemplating shutting India out of the American market. No country or company wants to risk being shut out of the US market. Trump is also trying to implicate India in the Iran episode, which also faces US sanction.
A week after the S-400 missile deal was inked, the US signalled it hasn't forgotten its threat of sanctions under CAATSA. The momentum of the strategic bilateral relationship between the two countries has not been so smooth. The two-decade-old strategic assumption that the US considered India vital to an Asian security order seems no longer valid.
Moscow has always stood by India, both in providing latest military equipment and classified military technology, even nuclear submarines which no western power, especially America, will ever provide. Incidentally, India was the first country to get it. Moscow also permitted licensed manufacturing of Mig-21 in India. S-40 is the second-biggest defence deal of Modi's tenure after the controversial Rafale deal with France.
Before the signing of the S-400 deal, NSA chief Ajit Doval went on a much-publicised tour to the US with the mission of persuading the Trump administration not to create any problem. But the mission could not achieve much. India will have some difficulty dealing with Trump's directive to bring down oil imports from Iran to zero by November 4. President Trump has told Modi that India must reduce obstacles to US exports even as he thanked for recent purchases of American-made equipment.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)