Immigration has benefitted US, turning inwards wrong, says USIBC chief
This story first appeared in ETV Bharat
In an exclusive interview with the senior journalist Smita Sharma, President of the US-India Business Council, Nisha Biswal criticised Donald Trump’s decisions to suspend H1B, L1 visas and force international students on F1 visas to leave if their campus goes fully online for the fall semester. She further said that there are opportunities for India and the US to expand our economic partnership to support a greater focus on supply chain and manufacturing in India particularly in sensitive areas like essential drugs, defence, high technology, infrastructure.
New Delhi: A mini trade deal under discussion for a long time between India and US is unlikely ahead of the November 2020 American Presidential elections, feels former diplomat and US-India Business Council (USIBC) President Nisha Biswal. Biswal was the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia in the Obama administration.
Speaking to senior journalist Smita Sharma from Washington DC, Biswal criticised Donald Trump’s decisions to suspend H1B, L1 visas and force international students on F1 visas to leave if their campus goes fully online for the fall semester.
Biswal also argued that turning inward when there are job losses or turning the tap off on immigrants is disadvantageous for American society and economy itself. In this exclusive conversation when asked about Google’s decision to invest up to USD 10 billion in India, Biswal underlined that digital economy is the future in the post-COVID-19 era and Indo-US trade will deepen over next many years but will need for stable policy frameworks in India. Excerpts from the conversation:
Q- Do you see a possible Indo-US Trade deal finalising soon?
The mini trade deal has been a subject of many conversations between Ambassador Lighthizer and his team at USTR and Piyush Goyal and his team at the Ministry of Commerce. Those conversations are ongoing and they are looking to see if those issues are put away. The closer you get to the election, the less likely it is you will get something before the election but I would be very pleasantly surprised if they were able to get it done. It would be in the interest of the United States and India to get the mini-deal done as soon as possible.
Q- Amid talks of US-China trade decoupling and India China tensions at LAC, which are the opportunity areas for Indo-US trade?
There are opportunities for India and the US to expand our economic partnership to support a greater focus on supply chain and manufacturing in India particularly in sensitive areas like essential drugs, defence, high technology, infrastructure. Those are areas where we want a trusted partner in building those industries. China will always be a very important economic partner for India and the US and no one is trying to change or undermine that. But more diversity on supply chains and de-risking in certain sectors will also require policy framework in India that is stable, attractive and incentivises that investment. This is about longing but in the short term, companies are dealing with a lot of red ink on their balance sheet. This is not the time you make major investments. We are talking about trying to reposition over the next several years in a way that will deepen the US-India corridor.
Q- Post-Galwan clashes, Indian announced a ban on import of certain Chinese goods that led to chaos at ports. USISPF said it would hurt American manufacturing firms too. Your views.
These are very complex and nuanced issues. We understand the security issues the Indian government is grappling with. We appreciate and support their need to secure the nation, citizens and Indian supply chains. But we live in a very integrated global economy so it is important to act with deliberative action and think through some of the unintended consequences.
Q- Google’s Sundar Pichai has announced a new $10B digitization fund to help accelerate India’s digital economy. Do you see more American firms steeping into the area?
Absolutely. Digital is the future, the digital economy is fast and the pandemic has actually accelerated significantly the move towards digitisation. What you are hearing from Sunder Pichai, Microsoft and the Indian tech giants as well is that the race to really expand digital architecture to support the future economy whether on collaborating on 5G infrastructure, expanding access issues that Google has talked about, those are really important opportunities for US-India collaboration between our two markets that can give access to suppliers and producers.
Q- Do you think Suspension of H1B, L1 Visas could be extended beyond December and how would it impact Silicon Valley?
Tom Donohoue, the CEO of US Chamber of Commerce has spoken out very forcefully and compellingly about why this is a misguided policy. In fact what it does is disadvantage the US, US companies and investing in the US workforce. We have benefitted as a nation in decades past by people who came on our shores, whether they are coming as permanent immigrants seeking a better life or as foreign students seeking higher education or on temporary work visas to help support short term needs in the US economy. These people have contributed greatly to America’s economic rise, to our entrepreneurial spirit and our ability to innovate. Immigration policies that really turn off the tap and access to the US , to some of the best and brightest around the world, is simply going to keep that talent off our shores and benefit other countries.
Q- Donohue reacting to the notification on F1 visas, that could impact some 200,000 Indian sides, said it would have a ‘chilling effect’ on the American economy. Why would Trump administration go for this description?
I cannot speak to the motivation of the Executive branch in putting the policies out. It is a time when we are dealing with a pandemic and with both fear and concerns around health as well as economic impacts. When you have so many job losses there are tendencies to turn inward which we think is exactly the wrong thing to do. But it is an instinct which is understandable and manifesting in many countries. We all do better when we work in a more collaborative and connected way with countries and our partners around the world. Our markets, sources and talents are global and we cannot afford to turn inwards and put up barriers at this point.
Q- The Ideas India summit organised by USIBC is lined up for next week which will see Nirmala Sitharaman, Jaishankar, Pompeo deliberate on Indo-US cooperation in a post COVID world. Which are some of the big ideas?
The theme for this year’s summit is Building a Better Future. We are in the midst of a time that is deeply disruptive to the status quo, to the norms that we have had, whether economic or geopolitical or disruption to the ways of our life and work. Yet at this time of disruption, we are also on the cusp of bringing in a new age. It is in our hands what that new era will represent. The Ideas summit is about how the US and India are working in partnership for the future of the economy. Whether it is security partnership that keeps the sea lanes of commerce open, or on the strategic relationship that talks about values and norms we cherish as well as adjustments that are due in a new era with new leaders emerging on the global stage or in the technology sector.