Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during a rally March 13, 2016 in West Chester, Ohio. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
Anxiety among Indian immigrants in the U.S. over the proposed tightening of work visa rules under the Trump administration has been compounded by fears in the wake of the fatal shooting of an Indian engineer in Kansas, writes Yoshita Singh. President Donald Trump, modifying his hardline campaign rhetoric, called for adopting a merit-based immigration system, March 1. This could benefit high-tech professionals from countries like India, writes Lalit K. Jha. A 39-year-old Sikh man was injured when an unidentified person shot him outside his home and allegedly shouted “go back to your own country,” writes Yoshita Singh – @Siliconeer #Siliconeer #USCongress #TheWhiteHouse #IndianAmerican #KamalaHarris #PramilaJayapal #Trump #Immigration #TrumpImmigrationPolicy @KamalaHarris @PramilaJayapal @TiESV #TiESV #Hatecrime #Garmin #H1BVisa
Indians on H-1B visas, many of whom have been living in the country for nearly a decade and are awaiting approval for their Green Cards, are now uncertain about their fate given the slew of legislations being introduced in the U.S. Congress and proposed executive orders, calling for overhaul of the visa program that allows companies to hire foreign workers, majority in the technological field.
Adding to the unease is the tragic incident in Kansas where 32-year-old Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla was killed when U.S. Navy veteran Adam Purinton opened fire at him and his friend Alok Madasani before yelling “get out of my country.”
Venkatesh, a 34-year engineer working in a major IT company in Florida, said he has been living in the U.S. for 10 years now and was close to getting his green card approval.
The father of two, who asked his last name not be used for the article nor the name of his company fearing repercussions, told PTI he is not sure if he will get his green card as the Trump administration’s imminent crackdown on the work visa program.
He said he and his wife, who is a doctor, are contemplating whether they should move back to India as they do not want uncertainty of living in the U.S. hamper their children’s education.
Venkatesh further said that Kuchibhotla’s killing has added to the atmosphere of fear and unease among the community.
“We are now concerned for the safety of our children. The tragedy in Kansas is making our worst fears come true,” he said.
He added that parents and families back home of several of his Indian friends and colleagues are worried about their safety in the U.S.
“We hope the situation here improves soon. We all have built a life for ourselves in the U.S. and don’t want to live in constant fear and uncertainty,” he said.
Like Venkatesh, several Indians still awaiting their green cards, are looking at working on an alternative plan in case they lose their jobs and have to leave the country.
Another Indian software engineer in New Jersey, who requested anonymity, said he has put several key life decisions on hold given the uncertain and fearful environment in America.
He said he has postponed buying a house and worries about his three-year-old girl’s education.
“We cannot live with the uncertainty for the next 10 years over when and whether our green card will be approved or what will happen to our work visas. We have to think about our child’s future and don’t want her education to suffer because of the uncertainty over where we will eventually live,” he said, adding that moving back to India or any other country will also require extensive planning and resources.
Some Indians here say they are ready to move back to India, where they can create a successful life and will be close to family as well.
Anita Kumar, the wife of an Indian database manager, is not able to work in the U.S. since she is on an H-4 dependent visa.
Kumar says in the eventuality that her husband has to return to India, she will be able to join the workforce and focus on her career as well.
“Given the uncertain environment in the U.S., we cannot afford to be rigid and not think of alternatives. India now offers tremendous opportunities and we will not have to live with the perpetual uncertainty and anxiety of one day being asked to leave the country,” Kumar said.
Social media like Facebook and Twitter are full of posts from Indians living here venting their anxiety over changes in immigration laws.
Some say their parents are expressing apprehensions over visiting them during the summers as they fear they could face hassles at the airport at the hands of immigration officials over their faith and background.
According to the most recent report from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 65% of H-1B visas granted in fiscal year-2014 went to workers in computer-related jobs.
Over half of those workers had advanced degrees and 72% were between the ages of 25 and 34.
In recent years, the U.S. government has received well over 300,000 H-1B applications annually; as mandated by Congress, it issues 85,000 a year, often by lottery.
A bulk of the H1-B visas go to Indian IT workers.
Trump Softens Stand on Immigration, Favors Merit-based System
Trump, during his first address to Congress, noted that “nations around the world, like Canada, Australia and many others have a merit-based immigration system.”
He said that such a system will save countless dollars and raise workers’ wages.
Trump introduced the idea of a merit-based immigration system after invoking the memory and words of late president Abraham Lincoln, saying, “Lincoln was right and it is time we heeded his words.”
“Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits: it will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families – including immigrant families – enter the middle class,” Trump said in a State of the Union-style address that lasted for an hour.
“Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration. The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers,” he said.
Trump said he believes that real and positive immigration reform is possible as long as it focuses on the goals to improve jobs and wages for Americans to strengthen the country’s security and to restore respect for laws.
Indian IT professionals account for the largest number of foreign nationals coming to the U.S. on H-1B visas.
Indians form a significantly large number of foreign workers coming to the U.S. as scientists, doctors, engineers and other highly-skilled professionals.
During his presidential campaign, Trump had promised to increase oversight of our H-1B and L-1 visa programs that are used widely by Indian tech companies.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows American firms to employ foreign workers in occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year.
Trump during his campaign promised measures like cracking down on undocumented immigrants, restricting travel to the U.S. to stop immigrants entering the country, drawing a sharp reaction from fellow lawmakers and countrymen.
In his address, Trump said that he has inherited a very bad economy.
“As I outline the next steps we must take as a country, we must honestly acknowledge the circumstances we inherited.
Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force.
Over 43 million people are now living in poverty. And over 43 million Americans are on food stamps,” he said.
Promising economic prosperity, internal security and a nation, which believes in the principles of peace through strength, Trump said America is willing to find new friends to forge new partnerships.
In his address, Trump rued that while the United States has spent trillions of dollars overseas, the infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.
Trump also called on the Republican-controlled Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare, with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time, provide better Healthcare.
Mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for America, he said.
“The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we will do,” he asserted.
Sikh Man Injured in U.S. After Stranger Shoots Him
Deep Rai, a Sikh man was working on his vehicle in the driveway of his home, in Kent, Washington, March 3, when he was approached by a stranger, who walked up to the driveway, the Seattle Times reported.
Kent police said an argument broke out between the two men, with the victim saying the suspect made statements to the effect of “go back to your own country.” The unidentified man then shot him in the arm.
The victim described the shooter as a six-foot-tall white man, wearing a mask covering the lower half of his face.
Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas said while the Sikh man sustained “non life-threatening injuries,” they are “treating this as a very serious incident.”
Kent police have launched an investigation into the case and reached out to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, the report said.
“With recent unrest and concern throughout the nation this can get people emotionally involved, especially when (the crime) is directed at a person for how they live, how they look,” Kasner said.
The incident is the latest in a series of troubling cases where members of the Indian community have been targeted in apparent hate crimes.
It comes close on the heels of the tragic shooting in Kansas last month of 32-year old Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed when 51-year old US Navy veteran Adam Purinton opened fire at him and his friend Alok Madasani before yelling “get out of my country.”
Earlier this month, an Indian American convenience store owner Harnish Patel, 43, of Lancaster in South Carolina was found dead of gun shot wounds in his yard.
Jasmit Singh, a leader of the Sikh community in Renton, Washington, said he had been told the victim was released from the hospital.
He said the victim and his family are “very shaken up.”
“We’re all kind of at a loss in terms of what’s going on right now, this is just bringing it home. The climate of hate that has been created doesn’t distinguish between anyone,” he said.
Singh said that men from his community have reported a rise in incidents of verbal abuse, “a kind of prejudice, a kind of xenophobia that is nothing that we’ve seen in the recent past.”
He said the number of incidents targeting members of the Sikh religion, are reminiscent of the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks.
But at that time, it felt like the administration was actively working to allay those fears,” Jasmit Singh said adding that “now it’s a very different dimension.”
Advocacy group The Sikh Coalition said it calls upon local law enforcement officials to investigate this shooting as a possible hate crime.
Various rights groups and ethnic Indian organizations are reaching out to people of the community asking them not to succumb to fear and immediately report any incident of hate crime or violence to law enforcement authorities.
The Indo American Democratic Organization strongly condemned Kuchibhotla’s tragic killing, saying “the circumstances around this horrible crime are incredibly troubling which includes but not limited to: unprovoked violence in a public venue, racial slurs, and a senseless attack against innocent members of the public.”
It also called on local elected leaders to express outrage over the “unacceptable and appalling” situation and publicly commit to doing what they can to prevent and call out hate crimes across communities.
It said it will continue to “represent the best interests of the local South Asian American community against the rise of any and all hate crimes and we join in partnership with many other organizations and civic leaders who stand for a more just, safe and equitable country.”
India Civil Watch, a collective of Indian American activists and professionals, called on Indian Americans to not succumb to fear in the wake of incidents like Kuchibotla’s murder.
The community must get organized in broad coalitions with others who intend to defend immigrant and minority rights, it said.
“This is also a moment for Indian communities in the U.S. to reflect, take stock, and prepare for the oncoming weeks and months of struggle against a rising tide of racism and xenophobia,” it added.