Biden Can ‘Undo’ Trump, Offer Path to Sensible Immigration Reform

Biden’s policies are promising compared to Trump’s on immigration reforms that could benefit Indian immigrants.

Updated
Opinion
3 min read
US President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
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At the Republican National Convention, Nikki Haley discussed her Indian-American roots, pointing out that her father “wore a turban” and mother “wore a sari”. On the surface, this dovetails well with President Donald Trump’s declaration at last year’s “Howdy Modi!” rally in Houston, that he is proud to have Indian immigrants “as Americans.”

Trump has followed that up with periodic tweets and statements about his love for India. But, his immigration record tells a different story. The Trump administration has systematically attacked pathways to legal immigration, and this has hurt the Indian American community.

There are almost than 4 million persons of Indian origin in the United States, a steep rise from the 12,000 who lived in the US in 1960.

Migration from India increased after 1965 and accelerated over the last few decades, with over 60 percent arriving after 2000.  Work, education and family sponsorships have been the main pathways for Indian immigrants.

Employment

Many Indians arrive in the US  on H-1B visas, which are used by employers to hire overseas workers in specialty (often technology) occupations.  As candidate, Trump railed against H-1B visas, ignoring evidence that foreign-born workers have helped grow the US economy. Between 2016 and 2019, the denial rate for H-1B applications shot up, from 10 percent to 21 percent.

The Trump administration has also indicated that it will end an Obama-era program that allows spouses of certain H-1B visa holders to work – which helps reduce financial hardship for families awaiting green cards. These steps have hurt both US businesses and Indian workers.

Higher Education

Indians make up the second largest international student body in the country.  American universities value Indian students, who contribute substantial intellectual resources and help the US economy.

The Trump administration has made the student visa process more cumbersome, and has taken aim at the Optional Practical Training program, which enables foreign students to obtain work experience.

Not surprisingly, in the Trump years, the average annual growth rate for students from India has fallen considerably. Many Indian students are now seeking opportunities in other countries, such as Canada and Australia.

Family Visas

The Trump administration has vilified family sponsorship of visas, which it calls chain migration. Some Indians believe that reducing or eliminating family sponsored visas will mean quicker processing of work-based visas. This is not true.

First, the Trump administration is opposed to both employment and family based immigration. Second, in recent years, more than half of Indians who received green cards did so through family sponsorship.

This is in line with previous waves of immigrants, who also brought in close family members after establishing themselves. My own research has shown that such support networks help immigrants build their lives – and contribute to the diversity of their adopted communities. Family and employer sponsored visas are not mutually exclusive: they complement each other.

The Trump administration has also implemented more stealthy practices, such as slowing down the processing and printing of green cards and employment documents, creating enormous backlogs.

Moreover, Trump’s approach has been haphazard, with ad hoc rule changes that are then abruptly reversed. This has created uncertainty and delays for Indian workers and students, as well as for American universities and employers.

What Might the Future Hold?

While President Trump is correct in saying that Indian immigrants have made valuable contributions; his actions show that he does not, in fact, “love India” or Indian-Americans.

If he is re-elected, administration hardliners will have a mandate to increase restrictions on legal immigration pathways.

Immigration reform is a complex and divisive issue, and will require a careful balancing of multiple interests. A Biden presidency would have the experience and the vision to build a more rational and humane approach.

The Obama-Biden administration introduced reforms that helped families waiting for green cards, streamlined visa application procedures, and provided flexibility to Indians on student and work visas.

The Biden platform proposes pragmatic reforms, such as clearing the family visa backlog and reforming the H-1B visa process so that American wages and workers are protected, while allowing employers to bring in necessary overseas workers. 

Biden also plans to eliminate country quotas for employer-sponsored green cards, which would significantly benefit the large numbers of Indians stuck in the green card backlog, and restore the naturalisation process for green card holders.

President Trump has proven that his approach is dominated by nativism and xenophobia. In a welcome contrast, a Biden administration offers a pathway to sensible immigration reform.

(The writer is a Professor of Political Science at Western Washington University. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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