The U.S.’s Loss is India’s Gain

In the bustling metropolis of Hyderabad, India, dozens of religious devotees for decades have flocked to temples dedicated to Lord Balaji, a deity who is said to bestow favor on H1B visa applicants. But since President Trump took office, the crowds of hopeful visa recipients at the temples have intensified, and their prayers have grown more desperate. Over the past 18 months, the Trump Administration has introduced draconian immigration policies that have stymied the H1B approval process for thousands of applicants, especially those from India. As detailed in a recent article in The San Francisco Chronicle, more than twice as many H1B applications were denied in November 2017 as the year before. And as more highly educated H1B hopefuls lose faith in achieving the American dream, other countries are benefiting from their skills and talent. [See The H1B Visa: A Golden Ticket Loses Its Luster, by Trisha Thadani, The San Francisco Chronicle.]

While critics of the H1B program complain that U.S. tech workers are harmed by the influx of foreign talent, the program has staunch support in what is arguably the technology capital of the world – San Francisco’s Silicon Valley. AnnaLee Saxenian, the dean of UC Berkeley’s School of Information, has studied the effects of foreign workers in Silicon Valley for over 30 years. She theorizes that the relationship between Silicon Valley and foreign workers is a mutually beneficially “brain circulation,” in which U.S. tech companies benefit from the superlative skill and talent of H1B workers, and those workers in turn can help support the economy of their native country with much higher salaries than they would earn at home. But Saxenian cautions that more foreign-born tech workers may now choose to stay in India, rather than risk a lengthy and expensive H1B application process that may result in denial. “People used to not be able to use their skills back in China, Taiwan, and India. But now you can. And when you have places in Hyderabad, where you have healthy tech development, there are real alternatives.

Saxenian’s fears of a Silicon Valley “brain drain” may very well come to fruition if India’s own tech sector keeps evolving. In Hyderabad, satellite offices for Google, Facebook, and Amazon sit on 151 acres known as the Hyderabad Information Technology and Engineering Consultancy (HITEC) City. Visa crackdowns “have been fantastic for us,” explained Jay Krishnan, CEO of T-Hub, a tech company based in India that routinely targets young Indian tech workers jaded by the H1B visa application process. “While we as a county are trying to potentially take off as a startup nation … the only way to fill that gap is to bring in folks that have a cultural affinity for India.”

It’s particularly unsettling that the Trump Administration remains so committed to anti-immigration policies and rhetoric in the face of mounting evidence that immigrants foster product innovation in the U.S. tech market, which potentially could bolster our overall economy and strengthen our standing on the world stage. If we continue to deny highly skilled and talented immigrants the chance to help advance and improve our tech industry, then other nations may benefit from all they have to offer. [See An Immigrant Workforce Leads to Innovation, According to New Research, University of California, San Diego, 16.Jul.2018.]

 

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