What new shocks will 2018 bring for India’s temporary workers in Trump’s America?
The answer rests on two legs: Which rung of the temp worker caste system you’re talking from and whether you’re taking a 30 year view of immigration in America or a longer one.
On the political side, with the Mueller investigation on the verge of crossing Trump’s red line, issues like immigration may become just the what the doctor ordered for an embattled White House to distract and deflect attention, like it has happened several times since Trump’s ascent.
“The H1B story has moved on. Many of those who came here in the early 90s are citizens and their kids are leading cutting edge work in the Valley, Trump doesn’t make a difference to them,” says Girish, a New York based techie who moved from an H1B to a green card and now free to take up any manner of employment in the lean periods – something which those on “skilled worker” visas cannot do.
What Girish says makes sense for those who have cut and run from the H1B hamster treadmill. For the steady stream of 60-85,000 H1B workers coming in every year, Trump will continue to matter.
Over a year in office, Trump’s settled into a fairly predictable pattern with his tone on outsiders. Although the fine print of the Buy American Hire American executive order has barely a few lines on reviewing the H1B’s efficacy, Trump’s political talk on outsiders seeks to blur the line between immigrants, illegals and non-immigrants. The issue, implicit in the Donald Trump / Steve Bannon pitch, is not whether outsiders are in the country legally; it’s that they are in the country at all.
The H1B is a non immigrant visa with an initial 3 year limit which can be extended subject to employment conditions requiring a longer stay.
But all this matters little to the white resistance against America’s changing palette.
Trump has succeeded in lumping all visa related matters into one dumpster heap called immigration. When Trump talks immigration, he conjures up horror stories that gut punch the average American into believing that all immigrants are bad news and are taking away their jobs and social benefits.
Politically, expect this theme to become fiercer during Trump’s time in office and if the Mueller investigation tightens the noose around the White House.
Just by what we know so far, expect Trump to ratchet up anti immigration talk everytime there’s gridlock in Congress over ambitious legislation. It’s happened before – the RAISE Act which pitches for a 50 percent cut in legal immigration and entry only for Nobel prize or Olympic medal calibre folks – got dusted out when the Obamacare repeal was doomed to fail. This will happen again.
With more politics up ahead – the midterm elections are in November 2018, Trump’s efforts to drag the US back to an earlier era of resentment against non-whites will only strengthen. That’s the voter base which remains strong for Trump despite little progress on many of Trump’s promises.
As the political leader of the most striking xenophobic movement in American politics, Trump will continue to push the ideas of slashing legal immigration. Expect to hear more from Trump’s pet policy prodigy – Tom Cotton, author of the RAISE Act (bill) and intellectual foil to Trump’s unbending far right world view.
For Bannon, Trump, Cotton and their ilk, returning America to the racial immigration quotas in the early 1920s is far more appealing than the rainbow nation created by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
Seen from the uncompromising perch of the white man who erroneously believes that America is not a nation of immigrants, the H1B worker feeds into the larger fear that whiteness is under attack from newcomers of colour and questionable quality. More outrage is up ahead.