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With Trump’s new H-1B rules and Covid crisis, Indians need a new ‘American dream’

Many Americans feel US President Donald Trump’s new visa laws will ‘Make America Great Again’. Indians must now forge new paths in their home country.

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Soon after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily halting the coveted H-1B visa for skilled workers and H-4 visa for spouses, social media was flooded with a mix of reactions.

A section in the US celebrated the news, with many calling it a step towards ‘making America great again’. Others talked about how the foreign skilled workforce was helping create jobs for Americans.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai pointed out that skilled immigrants had actually helped expand America’s economy.

But notable among the varied reactions to the order, which freezes new visas until the end of 2020, were those from Indians, who sought help because they were stuck ⁠— wait for it ⁠— in India.

These are people who have come to India as part of the US immigration procedure to have their visas stamped in their home country. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic shutting down all embassies and international travel, these people now find themselves stuck in a limbo.

Their posts on Twitter reveal the desperation and hard work that goes into migrating to another country, especially the US. The posts talk of families who were split up unexpectedly, Indians exhorting other Indians to return home, and of some who managed to reach their destination but are still struggling years later. And then there were the big employers of such visa holders. Pichai, himself a shining example of the success of the ’American Dream’, said he was disappointed and promised to stand with immigrants, while Tesla’s Elon Musk, another immigrant success story, said he didn’t agree with Trump’s move.

But truth be told, the ‘American Dream’ has been disappearing for years now. If you weren’t already in the US by the late 2000s-mid 2010s (when Silicon Valley acquired a cult status), chances are you are waiting in a long line for a Green Card.

Also read: H-1B order ‘undermines greatest asset’ of US economy — Twitter, Pichai, others slam Trump


Trump’s anti-immigration presidency

Since Trump came to power in 2016, the H-1B visa has become highly contentious. The latest order only makes an already choppy sea that much tougher to navigate.

Under Trump’s presidency, Indians looking to immigrate have found other pastures ⁠— Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But the coronavirus pandemic has made escaping to these countries improbable too. The virus has locked us all, in more ways than one.

Which brings us to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his call to be ‘self-reliant’.

Also read: Why Trump’s suspension of H1B and other work visas will kill innovation


Atmanirbhar means ghar wapsi

Indians have been quick to invoke Modi’s call for atmanirbharta (self-reliance) to all those upset by America’s new visa reality, and hope for a reverse migration trend of ghar-wapsi. Some joke about forgetting cushy American jobs, because the BJP IT cell is open to hiring. Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Swades (2004) became a top trend on Netflix India.

But, the levity aside, the current crisis is reshaping the world as we know it.

Earlier, if you were a middle-class Indian with above-modest means and academic acumen, envisaging a life outside India wouldn’t have been too difficult. The information technology boom granted many the opportunity to live the American dream, even if partially, by working from India but frequently travelling abroad. The most trodden path, though, was the graduate school system.

Completing a Masters programme in the US meant you had enough time to assimilate into the culture, acquire a taste for beef burgers, even pick up the American drawl and not-so-elegantly mash it with your own Indian sing-song tone. The stereotypical Indian headshake, on the other hand, is harder to discipline.

Data shows there are now over 40 lakh people of Indian origin in the US alone, of which more than five lakh are students.

Since the Covid-19 lockdown took a stronghold over countries world over, a significant number of people have deferred or declined acceptances from universities they have been working their whole life to get into. But those already in the US finishing college will join thousands of others in the limbo of uncertainty.

This holds for countries apart from the US, too.

So where do you go? A more local scale of migration— to metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai — is just as rife with problems. Delhi and Maharashtra currently account for about one-third of India’s coronavirus cases combined.

We are in the barrel of a tidal wave of layoffs, and rising fuel prices haven’t helped anybody’s anxiety (unless you are into trading oil stocks).

But as bleak as it all sounds, it also makes me feel optimistic. For this is an opportunity for aspirational Indians to revive their innate spirit of jugaad, and forge paths that can weather the current storm. It’s the era where job seekers will become job creators. For a generation of internet and tech-savvy millennials, the data sector has opened up opportunities like never before.

It’s time we create unimagined realities and define new dreams.

Views are personal.

Also read: India, China hit the most by US visa ban, second wave fear in South Korea & other Covid news


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