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End of American dream for Indian educated youth

What is American Dream?

The term "American dream" was coined in a best-selling book in 1931 titled “Epic of America”. James Truslow Adams described it as "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement." The American dream was aided by a number of factors that gave the United States a competitive advantage over other countries. The American dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society in which upward mobility is possible for everyone. The American dream is believed to be achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work, rather than by chance.

Chasing the great “American Dream”

Mostly, 3 kinds of Indians come to the US. Many Indians also seek admission in the US University for a better lifestyle.

1. Students: Education is the common route many Indians use to settle in foreign countries. Most Indians migrate to study Masters after finishing their Graduation (under graduation) in India. Students from middle class families prefer to finish their graduation in India due to cost factor as 4 years of studies would cost them very high. Experts say Indians seek admissions in US institutes for a variety of reasons. Foremost is the flexibility to choose subjects, undertake research, networking and exposure to multicultural diversity. Experts say Indian students will have to accept that international space for them is shrinking. Education is the common route many Indians use to settle in foreign countries. Many Indians also seek admission in the US University for a better lifestyle. Experts say Indians seek admissions in US institutes for a variety of reasons. Foremost is the flexibility to choose subjects, undertake research, networking and exposure to multicultural diversity. Those who fail to secure admission in USA try for colleges in the UK/Europe, Singapore, Australia & New Zealand.

2. Professionals: The huge waves of immigration of doctors and software engineers are now over. Still, many of the finest Indian brains in science, technology and medicine find the US an irresistible draw. Indian engineers, doctors and scientists throng the universities of the land. Obviously, Indian professionals work very hard. They suffer dislocation, isolation and numerous cultural challenges but they have the skills, the mindset and the work-ethic to succeed. A US visa even improves nuptial prospects and draws heftier dowry. Indian parents think having a US visa is some kind of an achievement. That’s probably because it assures a much higher salary. The minimum pay for someone on H-1B is $150,000 to $ 200,000, which translates to almost Rs. 125 lakhs to Rs.165 lakhs. Who will pay a developer that much in India? Such is the lure that Indian techies are known to even seek divine intervention to get hold of visas. There are several”visa temples” across India that supposedly they visit to increase devotees’ chances in this. Some engineers confess that they settled for mundane work for years just because they were promised a US visa at the end by their employers in India. It’s the ultimate carrot that is dangled to retain employees. The moment you put in your papers at an IT company, your manager will tell you “we were going to start your H-1B visa process in 3 months.” And most people decide to stay back because of that reason. An opportunity to “work onsite” and “earn in dollars” has been a big lure for Indian engineers ever since the tech boom swept the country almost two decades ago. An American visa is a sign of career progression for an IT professional, often valued even more than an increment.

3. The untold story, however, is of the less skilled Indian immigrants, the third kind of immigrant. There is a great desire to escape and a large number of people are looking for opportunities. America with its glow of professional success, rags to riches stories and seductive movies, is the “Promised Land” just as it was in the past for Europeans who were escaping poverty and repression. Coming over to the US for poorer Indians is not easy. They do not get into universities to study physics or genetics. They put together all their savings to get to the US and then go missing. They are undocumented and illegal immigrants who run the risk of being deported if they are caught. This fails to deter many intrepid souls. Dance troupes go underground when they are visiting the US. Many people come in on tourist visas and then never go back. Some even come to Mexico and jump the border. Illegal Indian immigrants take up odd jobs in farms, gas stations, restaurants or factories just like their Mexican counterparts. Of course, not all of the less skilled immigrants come to the US illegally. A large number of Indians have always applied for asylum (like victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots) or Family Green card such as children or siblings (but that takes long waiting).

State of Indian Immigrant’s Life in USA

Too many immigrants who come to the US start off being poor. Often they end up getting sick too. In a ruthlessly competitive society, with no family to fall back on, precious few social ties and a practically non-existent social support structure, this can be disastrous. As any immigrant will tell you, before achieving the “American Dream,” one has to survive the “American Nightmare.” America is a land of much promise but it is an unremitting and unforgiving land. Immigrants undergo much travail and work inordinately hard to succeed and to give their kids a decent shot at life. The rosy image of America most immigrants have omits the thorns. Unsurprisingly, most immigrants get a rude shock when they move to the land of the free and the home of the brave. Immigrants have long come to the US in search of opportunity. Despite the weak economy, people elsewhere still look upon the US as a country where they can lead better lives. The British and Europeans have now been replaced by the Mexicans, the Chinese and the Indians, the top three sources of immigrants to the US. Mexican immigration comprises mainly of workers streaming across the border in search of jobs. Chinese and Indian immigration is similar with 2 big differences, Indian immigrating tend to be highly skilled individuals who have come through a ferociously competitive education system and Indians tend to be more fluent in English than the Chinese (thanks to the British Empire) & tend to assimilate better.

Changing world

Indian students will have to face the reality that the international space for them is shrinking with growing anti-globalisation sentiment and slowing of the global economy. Brexit (the British vote to leave the European Union) and public posturing by Republican Politician like Trump best demonstrates this. Indian students need to realise that this migration will not continue for forever. UK had already curtailed the duration for the foreign students and the EU is expected to walk the same path. Such clamor grows within Australia to reduce the flow of immigrants; demand for Indian professionals has been on a continuous decline in Singapore and the Gulf countries.

A reduction in immigration would, then, add more pressure on the Indian economy, witnessing jobless growth for some years.

End of the great American dream for Indian techies

The year 2018 may have put an end to the “American dream” of thousands of Indian techies. The Donald Trump administration continued its clampdown on the high-in-demand long-term US work visa, the H-1B. Indians have been the worst-hit since they receive over three-quarters of the H-1B visas. The work visa, which allows immigrants to live and work in the US for up to 6 years and is extensively used by Indian IT companies, has been battered and bruised since Trump came to power in 2016. Trump administration has made the qualifying criteria for the visa tougher (minimum wage of $150,000 to $250,000 or more a year), sought cumbersome paperwork and increased the fees, among other things. An iron-fisted crackdown on visa abuses is also challenging for prospective employers.

And that could just be the beginning, considering several bills to hike up the wage levels for H-1B visa eligibility and reduce the over-flooding of entry-level talent at big outsourcing firms are on the table. There was a time when the US saw a need for having a long-term work visa category. This recent stamping out by US authorities is contrary to their stance on H-1B just a few decades ago. In fact, there was a time when the US saw a need for having a long-term work visa -category as there was not enough skilled talent in America to fill “specialty occupations.” The need was particularly dire for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, which continue to have a higher share of immigrant workers. While less than 1% of all US jobs go to foreign workers.

Indian IT outsourcing companies may survive the change in US visa norms by tweaking their business models, but if the move comes through, it would mean the end of the ”American dream” that generations of Indian techies have carried.

With all these roadblocks, and perhaps more to come, Indians are happier returning home or even finding greener pastures like Canada.

Current State of Affairs

Nearly 4 in 10 previously laid off tech workers found jobs less than a month after they began searching, the survey found. However, 2023 is set to become the worst year for tech layoffs and there may not be jobs available for those on H1-B visa anymore. Several Indian-origin workers were left in the lurch in late 2022. Now, with the latest layoffs announced by Amazon and Salesforce, and Google soon joining the list, several of H-1B visa holders will be left in a precarious situation.

As thousands of techies continue to lose jobs at Big Tech companies amid recession fears, most of them are finding it difficult to get jobs, as there is a freeze on new hiring at nearly every top firm, amid global macroeconomic conditions and recession fears. Amazon, Salesforce, Meta, Twitter, Uber and other tech companies have laid off employees as well as put a total freeze on new hiring. In some cheer for those who have lost jobs in the ongoing funding winter and global macro-economic conditions, most laid-off tech employees landed new jobs within three months of starting their search for a new opening. A ZipRecruiter survey revealed that nearly 79 % of terminated staff in the tech industry landed a new job within three months.

Several Indian-origin workers were left in the lurch in late 2022. Now, with the latest layoffs announced by Amazon and Salesforce, and Google soon joining the list, several of H-1B visa holders will be left in a precarious situation. They will again have 60 days to find a new job or leave the US, ending their American Dream. Meanwhile the application fees for employment-based visas, such as H1-B and L, are set to increase under a proposed US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) fee rule to recover operating costs and prevent case backlogs

Under the new proposal, which will be subject to a 60-day comment period before it takes effect, the application fee for H-1B visas for high-skilled workers would jump by 70 % to $780. H-1B visa petitioners would also need to pay $215 in pre-registration fees, up from the current $10 fee. "Although an increase from $10 to $215 may appear dramatic at first glance, the $10 fee was established simply to cover a small portion of the costs of the program, as opposed to no fee at all.

LinkedIn in late 2022 was flooded with stories of laid-off H1-B workers.

People have seen a dramatic turnaround in job availability in the market, no one wants to commit now for full time, because companies are not sure about the economic situation. It was an anxious time for tens of thousands of newly laid-off workers amid inflation pressures and recession concerns. Some people who were in earlier rounds of layoffs got jobs but even they were pessimistic about the current market.

Ever since these techies came to the USA in the early 1970s they had been anxious that one day there would be a backlash against the Indian immigrant community in the USA. The reason was the observation that Indians were almost all very well educated, lived in decent houses in upscale neighborhoods, drove newer cars, had professional jobs and even their children did very well at school. Americans would declare one day that these Indians must be doing something unethical, if not illegal that enabled them to live such a good life.

However, fears resurfaced over the past 10 years or so as they saw a massive influx of Indian Information Technology (IT) professionals into USA, mainly in the Silicon Valley area but also in many other major cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Denver etc. This new generation of Indians is distinctly different from immigrants like those who came here for higher education and then struggled for many years to establish a good life, eventually becoming US citizens.

First, most Indians in the IT field are not US citizens and came here on H1B visas for periods of between 3 to 6 years. They either do not want to or cannot become US citizens. So, they are oblivious to social and political issues in USA. They know that they can go back to India at any time if the situation warrants.

Second, Americans think that they are somewhat rude in their behaviour because they did not have to learn accepted norms of interaction with others. They tend to socialize with each other and live in a world of Indian food, Bollywood movies, watching cricket on TV, daily communication with relatives in India through WhatsApp, etc. Unlike us, they earned good salaries from the time they set their feet here. They live a good life, but their attire and mannerisms spell a “fresh off the boat” image.

To ordinary Americans they may not look any different from us and it is easy to form a negative opinion about all Indians based on interaction with these IT Indians. This unfavourable image of the Indian community might be further damaged by reports of many of them overstaying their visas and their efforts to bring many of their relatives to this country through what Donald Trump calls “chain immigration”.

There is another aspect to the problem. A recent news report about Indian nationals crossing the US-Mexico border illegally has taken my anxiety levels to new heights. According to this report, it is not just people from central and South America and middle-easterners who are trying to enter the USA illegally from Mexico, but a rapidly increasing number of Indians has been added to the mix.

The most popular border crossing point is between the towns of El Centro in California and Mexicali, Mexico. The number of Indians caught at the border in 2015 was six but it has skyrocketed to more than 3,000 this year. There have also been similar border crossings in Arizona over the past several years.

It has also been reported that some of these illegals are Sikhs. When questioned by immigration officers they say that they are seeking asylum in this country because of alleged political and religious persecution in India. The women, on the other hand, are claiming incidents of assault and abuse because of their lower castes and threats of honour killing.

While such abuses certainly exist in India they cannot possibly be as widespread or severe as to cause thousands of people to flee India and take this long torturous route to the USA.

It is also surprising that these Indians are trying to enter USA from the Mexican side, as opposed to the Canadian side. There is increased vigilance at the border to capture illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Hispanics because of Trump’s effort to secure the border. It almost seems foolish that Indians who look like the Mexicans would want to come this way.

If they have legitimate reasons to seek asylum (some attorneys are reportedly fighting for their causes already) it would make a lot more sense to try to enter from Canada and without having to pay any fee for illegal smuggling.

Another disturbing part of this report is the involvement of Sikh “temples” on the US side in harboring these illegal immigrants until they seek out relatives and friends already in this country and arrange for transportation. It is almost like establishment of mosques to help Muslims get in or the Catholic Church helping Mexicans come to the US illegally.

Historically, Sikh immigrants first came to the El Centro area in the early part of the last century because of opportunities in agriculture and hot weather. The community has been growing ever since. It is likely that these illegal immigrants have nothing to do with IT but are simply relatives of people who are already there.

I wonder if the illegal migration of Indians into this country marks the beginning of the end of dreams of many Indians living peaceful lives in USA. We might be viewed in future in the same way as Mexicans or Middle-easterners are; undesirable people who want to come here at any cost and then become a burden on society. I hope that I am wrong. What next?

As Indian IT companies brace themselves for a tighter visa regime, engineers are looking for the proverbial silver lining. They hope that IT companies, which typically execute the more challenging work from client’s location and move only the mundane back-end jobs to India, will now start bringing some innovative work back home. I could move back to India in a heartbeat if I get to do the same kind of work that I am doing here. Those looking for innovative work in India may also explore jobs in the booming startup ecosystem here. But those who are still fixated with onsite opportunities may start looking at other countries like the UK, Australia or Canada.

CA Harshad Shah, Mumbai

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