By Mayank Chhaya-
Perhaps just about now those Indian Americans in Silicon Valley and of Republican persuasion who have exulted over Vivek Ramaswamy’s techbro brio may begin to squirm a bit over his assertive rejection of the H1B worker visa program.
In keeping with his now familiar run-with-the-hare and hunt-with-the-hounds approach to politics, Ramaswamy has described the H1B visas as a form of “indentured servitude” even while glibly rationalizing the use of the same visas 29 times as a biotech entrepreneur between 2018 and 2023.
On the one hand he has said he would “gut” the H1B program but on the other explained his own use of the visas as having “played within the rules that have been given to us by the government.” In an interview with Fox News Sunday, he said, “I believe the energy system in this country and energy regulation needs drastic reform too. But I still use water and electricity and turn on the lights. So the fact of the matter is, I have an understanding of the regulatory apparatus because I have dealt with it as a CEO and an entrepreneur who has built multiple companies.”
In particular, the 38-year-old Ramaswamy has said he wants to end the lottery system within the H1B visas. “Why on earth would you use a lottery when you could just use meritocratic admission instead? Restore merit,” Ramaswamy said. “We have to gut that system, restore meritocratic immigration, which is skills, not just tech skills, but all kinds of skills to match what we need in this country.”
Notwithstanding that he is the son of immigrant parents from Kerala in India, Ramaswamy has taken a hard-right position on immigration policies, including deporting U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants notwithstanding that the 14th Amendment grants such children birthright citizenship. Ramaswamy also supports the use of military force on America’s southern border.
It is strange that he thought H1B is a form of “indentured servitude” but had no moral compunctions using it himself.
Ramaswamy’s rapidly rising visibility within the Republican Party has excited a section of the Indian American community which at the same time has been the biggest beneficiary of the H1B visas.
Ramaswamy is known the employ sophistry to make his political, cultural and economic points. For instance, during a particularly combative exchange on “The Mehdi Hasan Show” on MSNBC, Hasan pressed him about the fact Ramaswamy himself had accepted a (George) Soros scholarship even when he did not need to.
“You say you’re anti-identity politics, anti-affirmative action in a party that hates the Soros name, yet you accepted (in 2011) a Paul and Daisy Soros scholarship at law school that was specifically set up for the children of immigrants,” Hasan said. “It was an affirmative action scholarship, and your defense for that is that you didn’t have the money to pay for law school even though you had already made over a million dollars at the time.”
Ramaswamy’s defense was this; “That’s not true. My defense of that is if someone gives you a merit scholarship at the age of 24, you take it. At the age of 24, if someone gives you a merit scholarship, you take it.”
The exchange went like this:
Hasan: Did you not make 750,000 dollars?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Not at the time I had applied for the [Soros] scholarship.
Hasan: Yes, you did Vivek. This is awkward for you because you did. I’ve got the tax returns in front of my face.
There seems to be a pattern here where Ramaswamy takes advantage of features of government and the corporate world which he then denounces and wants to get rid of if he rises to become president. It is like pulling up the ladder after he has climbed even though he did not need that ladder to begin with.
So far, this approach seems to be working in his favor within the Republican world. In that he is reminiscent of his political hero, former President Donald Trump who too had taken a similar approach when he announced his run in 2016.