Ashok Nilakantan (IANS)-
U.S. President Joe Biden’s outreach to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by stepping out to greet him at the G7 summit in Germany is being perceived as a calculated political move to garner support on the Quad and other multilateral issues on the table.
The US needs India’s support on the Russia-Ukraine war where India has maintained a low-profile ambivalent stand in the Quad with India’s External Affairs Ministry not making any statement that could reportedly upset the balance in the long traditional ties India has had with Russia and with multibillion dollar military supplies at stake, even though the BJP-led NDA has come off to the world as an ultra-right wing party aligned more with the West than the East, analysts feel.
While Biden might persuade India to restrict oil imports from Russia and look at the global demand supply management in several countries including India where inflation is soaring, New Delhi will likely reiterate its position that it is unfairly being targeted for its oil imports from Russia while most of the West looks to Russia for energy supplies and imports minerals, fertilisers and ores.
The U.S. understands full well that the Indian diaspora is one of its largest ethic communities numbering over one million and contributing as much as $2 billion in taxes to the US treasury annually. Highly-educated Indians dominate the IT space in the US, especially Silicon Valley where many Indian Americans lead global giants such as Google, Microsoft, Twitter, IBM and Adobe, in addition to scores of mid-level IT companies or start-ups.
Therefore, it is pertinent to ask what’s possible on the agenda between the two leaders of the two great democracies of the world if and when they meet: :
The U.S. might make another, possibly futile bid to get Indian support over the Russia-Ukraine war, strengthen America in its position on the South China Sea to protect allies such as Vietnam and the Philippines, where India too has interests, particularly Vietnam where state-owned ONGC is drilling for oil.
Visas for Skilled Employees
In his election manifesto, Biden had promised support for the Indian American community. In contrast, IT companies had a tough time with the Trump administration when it sought to curtail the number of H1-B visas and insisted on employing locals.
A mid-level skilled H-1B software employee could earn up to $70,000 a year. To hire local Americans, however, firms have to shell out up to or more than $100,000 a year.
US and Indian IT companies, therefore, prefer to outsource skilled Indians from outsourcing giants such TCS, Infosys, Wipro and HCL. It was this bulk visa regime that Trump sought to strike down.
Green Card Applications
Biden has made all the right noises about the pile up of Permanent Resident Card (green card) applications during the Trump administration. A ‘green card’ enables dependents and spouses to move to the US and be united with the earning members.
In May this year, a presidential advisory commission unanimously voted to recommend the Biden administration to process all applications for green cards within six months. This will likely impact thousands of pending applications and allow them to be fast-tracked.
Biden and Indian Americans
As Senator, as chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Vice President, Biden was seen as an India supporter, even if not an Indophile. “Indian Americans, like all Americans, are deeply invested in the core elements of our future – education, access to high-quality, affordable healthcare, addressing the climate crisis, and reforming and modernizing our immigration system in a way that aligns with our values,” Biden had stated.
“From fighting Covid-19 to building our economy back better to reforming our system of immigration, a Biden-Harris Administration will be one that Indian Americans can count on,” the manifesto had promised.
Stem the Rise of Hate and Bigotry
Indian Americans of all backgrounds – Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jain and others – have been subjected to bullying and xenophobic attacks. Biden had promised that more than ever, a reassurance that leaders in Washington will have their backs.
Security for Houses of Worship
In 2012, a White supremacist opened fire in an Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurdwara, killing seven and wounding four. In January 2019, a Hindu temple was vandalized, with windows shattered and xenophobic messages spray-painted across the walls. An idol was defaced and a knife was stabbed into a chair. Biden says he wants to ensure places of worship have access to robust and direct security support from the Federal government.
Streamline Religious Worker Visas
Indian Americans communities that rely on the counsel, support, and wisdom of scholars and religious specialists, who may be foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. on temporary religious worker (R-1) visas. Indian American organizations find religious worker visa process to be caught in administrative and financial spirals. The processing times can result in travel delays, adversely impacting these communities.
The Biden administration has directed the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to identify methods and programs to streamline the review of religious worker visas submitted by faith-based organizations.
Recognising Contributions of Indian Americans
The Obama-Biden Administration celebrated America’s diversity as an essential strength, including hosting the first White House event to honor the military service of Indian Americans. Diwali celebrations at the White House also became a highlight. The Biden administration has allowed observant Sikhs as well as Muslim women to wear religious head coverings while in uniform, so that soldiers could both honor their faith and serve their country.
Biden has played a lead role, both as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Vice President, in systematically deepening the strategic engagement, people-to-people ties, and collaboration with India on global challenges. In 2006, Biden announced his vision for the future of U.S.-India relations: “My dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States.” He has also worked to make that vision a reality, including leading the charge in Congress, working with Democrats and Republicans, to approve the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2008.
Ashok Nilakantan (IANS)-