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Joe Biden promises to end suspension of H-1B visas

July 03, 2020 06:38 AM


Joe Biden promises to end suspension of H-1B visas

Yashwant Raj


Washington : Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has said the US and India are “natural partners” and if elected, the relationship will be a “high priority” for his administration. He promised to end the temporary suspension of H-1B visas that President Donald Trump ordered last week ostensibly to ensure American have the first crack at jobs as the US reopens after Covid-19 lockdown.

The visa programme, of which Indians are the largest beneficiaries, has been in the crosshairs of the Trump administration’s immigration hawks.

“That partnership [with India], a strategic partnership, is necessary and important in our security,” said Biden at a virtual fund-raiser on Wednesday. He gave an account of his role in promoting the relationship and securing the US-India civil nuclear deal.

“I was proud to play a role more than a decade ago in securing congressional approval for the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement,” he said. He added it was a big deal.

The deal set a high bar for everything that has followed in the relationship.

“Helping open the door to great progress in our relationship and strengthening our strategic partnership with India was a high priority in the Obama-Biden administration and will be a high priority if I am elected president,” Biden, a former vice-president, said. “India needs to be a partner in the region for our safety sake and quite frankly for theirs.”

Late former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee first used the phrase “natural allies” to describe the US-India relationship. Former US president George W Bush switched in “partners” for “allies”.

At a virtual town-hall with Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Biden opposed Trump’s suspension of H-1B visas. “He [Trump] just ended H-1B visas for the rest of this year. That will not be in my administration,” he said in response to a question. People on this visa “have built this country”, said Biden, who visited India as vice-president in July 2013 with his wife, Jill Biden.

The US issues 85,000 of temporary non-immigrant H-1B visas for high-skill jobs annually. Over 70% of them go to Indians. The programme critics argue H-1B visas are used to bring cheaper labour from abroad to displace Americans. The Trump administration stepped up scrutiny of the programme after taking office in January 2017. It issued an executive order titled ‘Buy American, Hire American’.

The administration announced a reform of the programme along with the suspension last week and it would include doing away with the electronic lottery system to pick successful H-1B applications from among the thousands that are filed. The selection will be based on those getting the highest salary. Other changes are also in the offing, but there is no timeline for it yet.

Biden also spoke about other immigration issues like the plight of undocumented immigrants brought as children, called Dreamers, to the US. Many of them are of Indian origin. “On day one [of his presidency], I am going to send a legislative immigration reform bill to the Congress to provide a road map to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who contribute so much to this country.

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