NEW DELHI: With Joe Biden set to enter the Oval Office in January, the protestations of President Donald Trump notwithstanding, lakhs of Indians who head to the United States every year for studies, employment and immigration could heave a sigh of relief.
In the four years of the Trump administration, it has not been smooth sailing for Indians for whom the US is a land of opportunities and a stepping stone for economic prosperity.
From green card holders, students and H1-B visas, the numbers have been steadily going down. Take the lawful residence permits, or green cards.
The road to the US has been bumpy since Trump took tenancy of the White House, resulting in a decline of Indians acquiring the coveted residency permit. n 2010 when Barack Obama was President, more than 69,000 Indians got the green card (see table).
The number peaked in 2014, when nearly 78,000 Indians managed to get it. But in the years since, and particularly after Trump became President, it has slowly gone down.
Last year only about 54,000 Indians got the green card, registering a sharp drop of 8.9% from the previous year.
“Biden is likely to be more open to easing restrictions on visas and immigration. It is worth noting that he is the only presidential candidate to release an agenda proposal aimed at Indian-Americans, which among other things, lays out his plan for visas and immigration,” said Kriti Upadhyaya, a researcher at the Washingtonbased Center for Strategic and International Studies.
She felt that Biden would be more supportive of familybased immigration.
“His more progressive visa plans include exempting recent graduates of PhD programmes in STEM fields from any caps,” Upadhyaya said.
H1-B visas, the most sought after by Indians, is another area where Trump has cracked down and proposed curbs.
Though a US court stayed the move, Trump’s decision to halt all nonimmigrant visas, including H1-B, caused tension among Indians, especially the IT sector.
Relaxation in US visa rules expected
Indians are the largest beneficiaries of the H1-B visas, with the number of applications increasing consistently since 2011, according to figures gleaned from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
While it was around 1.5 lakh that year, the number almost doubled in 2016. To be fair to Trump, the number of H1-B visa applications exceeded 4 lakh in 2018. But last year, it dropped by more than 3 lakh, perhaps because of the tightening of rules.
“There will definitely be some relaxation in the visa regime, especially H1-B, under Biden but to expect too much would be foolish. It is not like the US will start welcoming Indians,” said a research scholar on Indo-US relations at JNU. She also played down the hype around Kamala Harris.
“To expect that her election will benefit Indians and Indian- Americans is unfounded.
Yes, there will not be unpredictable decisions, but norms will largely be the same,” she said.
Upadhyaya echoed her views.
“Restrictions are likely as Biden is in favour of a wage-based allocation process for H-1Bs. This means instituting reforms in H-1B process and ensuring that it is used only for highly skilled, well-paid foreign workers,” Upadhyaya said.
Another group of Indians that has an abiding interest in the US is the student community.
The number of students flying out has been rising since 2013. But the rate of growth has slowed under the Trump administration.
During the Obama administration, the average percentage increase in the number of Indian students was 13.5%. This fell to 12.3% during the Trump tenure. But the decline is partly because the US may not be the universal first choice.
“Over the years Indians have found new places to pursue higher education. Europe has become the preferred destination. The enrollment in US universities continues, but the numbers are going up in other parts of the world, resulting in the slowing growth rate to the US,” the JNU researcher said.