WASHINGTON: Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna has said the US needs to "remain open" to immigrants who contribute to creating jobs and help shape the economy, as he called for "common sense" reforms in the H1B visa system. Khanna, who represents the Silicon Valley where a large number of Indian techies and other immigrants work, said many Americans believe the H1B visa programme needs to be reformed.
His remarks came amid increasing calls in the US to review the work visa programme, highly popular with Indian technology firms, and US President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to put "America First". Apart from the Trump administration's crackdown on immigrants, the H1B visa programme has become a key issue in the tense ties between US tech firms and the White House.
When Trump signed a controversial immigration order in January banning people from seven Muslim-majority nations - which had caused chaos and sparked protests before a US judge stopped its enforcement in February - tech firms had voiced their displeasure at the move. Trump, however, persisted with his decision and issued a "revised" executive order with changes, excluding Iraq from the list of countries on which the travel ban was slapped. "Of course, we have to end the abuses. We shouldn't have companies that have more than 50 per cent H-1B visas and we should make sure that they are paid the prevailing wage," Khanna, a first-time Congressman, told PTI in an interview.
"These are common sense reforms that even people like Venk Shukla (TiE Silicon Valley leader) and many Americans believe in, let's fix the system, end the abuses but make sure we recognise the role of immigrants in creating jobs," he said. The H1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows American firms to employ foreign workers in occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. It is highly popular among Indian techies and the technology companies depend on the programme to hire tens of thousands of employees each year. Khanna, who was elected to the US House of Representatives last November and was sworn-in as a Congressman this January, said, "We have to remain open to immigration, people coming here who can contribute jobs and help the economy."
According to a report by The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in September, immigrants contributed USD 2 trillion to the US economy in 2015-16 and Indians were the "most entrepreneurial" of all groups. Khanna also pushed for strong relations between India and the US, in particular the trade ties. "There's a strategic partnership in advancing market security interests. India provides a large export market for American products with a large growing middle class. That can help create jobs in the United States," he said.
"They both share values of democratic pluralism of a respect and tolerance for different faiths, a respect for dissent, a respect for robust journalism, a respect for spirituality. I think that there is the common values also," Khanna said, adding he looks forward to visit India soon. Condemning the recent hate crimes against Indian-Americans and Indians, he said the community has tremendously contributed to jobs, innovation, and service to the armed forces.
"There's been an outpouring of support, both from Democrats and Republicans, to say that hate crimes and hate speech have no place in the United States," he said. Khanna is working with other Indian-American lawmakers Pramila Jayapal and Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ami Bera, and with Congressman Joe Crowley to make sure they have a federal task force that deals with hate crimes. "We've had tremendous support in a coalition, republican and Democrat colleagues, from people like John Lewis, and from the Hispanic-American caucus.
It's a broad coalition.From the Jewish-American community, there's concerns about anti-semitism. It's a broad coalition that believes that this country doesn't have any place for hate, or hate speech," he said. The election of a record number of five Indian-Americans to the Congress for the first time, is giving the community a lot of confidence, he said. "A sense of inspiring young people to seek careers in public service, to go into the military, to go into foreign service. It has really inspired, I think, many young folks to answer the call to service," Khanna said.