H-1B visas, that allow Indian infotech professionals to work in the US, face a new threat — black American professionals are lobbying the US Congress against such visas saying that they are tantamount to racial discrimination.
While some Republican legislators have long resisted visa expansion, Democrats have generally favoured it. The number of H-1B visas could rise from 115,000 this year to 200,000 next year if certain bills moved by the Democrats in Congress go through. But Democrats depend on the black vote, so it is worrying from an Indian viewpoint that black professionals are targeting visas. In a letter addressed to Richard Gephardt, Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley (CAFI-SV) says that only discrimination can explain why there are 225,000 African American engineers, programmers and systems analysts, yet only 1,688 black professionals are employed in the Silicon Valley companies, of which four-fifths fail to even file equal employment opportunity forms.
The Coalition says that only a token number of Silicon Valley companies showed up for recruitment at a recent meeting of 60,000 black students.
At an earlier meeting in Oakland in ’98, not a single Silicon Valley company showed up for recruitment.
Yet these companies claim that there is an acute shortage of skilled personnel and so plead for more visas for foreigners, such as Indians. No government agency monitors this claim.
Anita Borg of the Institute on Women and Technology claimed on a TV show that the number of jobs being filled by H-1B visas roughly equalled the under representation of women and minorities in science and technology education.
The Coalition claims that the three states with the highest demand for visas, “have all taken steps to reduce African American and Latino enrolment in their colleges.”
Giving more visas, as proposed in recent bills in Congress, would “accelerate ethnic cleansing in the high technology industry, lock the doors of opportunity for decades and harden racial inequality into concrete.”
The letter to Mr Gephardt ends with the message “Don’t let Jim Crow come back.” (Jim Crow laws were the ones used in the early 20th century by southern states to segregate blacks and prevent them from voting). The sad fact is that the letter itself is racist.
It rests on the absurd premise that Indian professionals are part of a white conspiracy to keep black professionals from rising. Ironically, many whites also complain that Indians and Chinese are taking over the space that whites once dominated in the Silicon Valley and top technical colleges in the US.
The truth is that the H-1B visa is colour blind. It does not lay down racial quotas, and allows companies to choose from the best worldwide. If they choose Indians, it has nothing to do with colour and everything to do with talent. Had it been a racist ploy, companies would have imported only whites from eastern Europe, not Asians.
To call H-1B visas a return to Jim Crow is outrageous. The visas represent global meritocracy, not white supremacy. Choosing top-class Indian professionals does not amount to segregating blacks or preventing them from voting. It amounts to giving developing countries some of the benefits of globalisation.
It is also a great benefit to the US. Half the start-ups in the Silicon Valley today are by Asians, and that has helped make the US economy the most dynamic in the world. Europe and Japan have been left far behind in information technology precisely because they resist the infusion of skilled Indians.