The Evolution of India-US Bilateral Relations in the Biden Era: Immigration Policy
St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata
Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.
After 1991, the Indian economy opened its doors to liberalization, privatization, and globalization. Globalization ultimately led to the integration of the Indian and American markets The onset of the exchange of goods, services and human capital led to the formation of large diasporic settlements - for example, the significant number of Indians working in the Silicon Valley, and other low-skilled laborers working across American firms. (Rifai,n.d.).
India and America are both closely aligned on the ideological spectrum. Policy-wise, there are a lot of issues such as diversity and human rights that the countries see eye to eye on. India has been America’s biggest destination for export and one of the largest imports for laborers. (Keelery, 2021). India and America also align in terms of their mutual geopolitical rivalry with China.
A growing concern for the Indian government is China's expanding influence in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as the conflict between the two nations over the Northern borders. Additionally, there have also been disputes over the Brahmaputra River between India and China. On the other hand, the rapid growth of China globally has made the U.S. equally concerned. Therefore the tension with China has eventually brought India and the U.S. closer during the Trump era.
India-US Relations: From Trump to Biden
The Trump administration's policy's have sided with India in terms of its dealings with China. In turn, US support has encouraged India's growth as a global power. The strong relationship became ever more evident after Trump visited India in 2020. India and the U.S. also signed a 2+2 framework on November 3, 2020, a few days before the 2020 American election. The talks resulted in agreements such as the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). LEMOA allows both countries to have access to each other’s military facilities for refueling and replenishment. These agreements further strengthened the bilateral relations between America and India, evolving the dynamic into a strategic partnership (The Economic Times, 2020).
On the other hand, Biden, during his presidential campaign, called India to be U.S.’s natural partner. Biden’s visit to India in 2008 has played a great role in making the nuclear deal pass through the Senate (Laxman, 2021). Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also seen congratulating Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their win, especially considering the latter’s ethnic roots are from India. In terms of geopolitical tensions with China, Biden has been a little more flexible towards China as compared to Trump, but he has also demonstrated equal concern about China’s growth towards global domination. Additionally, he took a stand against China when he stated that his focus would be on the Indo-Pacific region.
Donald Trump's Immigration Policies: Impact on India
Donald Trump had worked on the agenda of “America First”, a protectionist approach focused on prioritizing the provision of jobs to Americans and helping American industries thrive and survive. In order to create more opportunities for American citizens, there were several strict modifications of the immigration policies that fell under this agenda.
Donald Trump put several restrictions on legal immigrants. The restriction stated that those in need of housing or public benefits like Medicaid  would not be allowed to immigrate. This meant that the benefit of immigration would be limited to those with high income, and private medical insurance. There had been a drastic downfall in the number of immigration visas from abroad in 2019, which was 426,422, as compared to that issued in 2016, which was 617,752 (Amadeo,2021).
Trump has also denied welfare provisions to any immigrants within their first five years of stay in the U.S. Even though this policy has been active in America since 1996, states are allowed to grant an exception in some cases. However, Trump openly declined all exceptions in any case. The government was also provided grounds to deport those in their first five years of immigration who opted for any health care treatment or were diagnosed with any disease that could lead to communal spread (Amadeo, 2021).
In the U.S, the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrival Program (DACA) states that undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors could obtain their own social security number and eventually become legal citizens of the country. Trump proposed to waive the DACA, but on June 18, 2020, his proposal was declared unlawful (Amadeo, 2021).
President Trump passed an executive order on March 6, 2017, which banned incoming refugees from entering the country for 120 days unless they were scheduled for traveling. This was done with the intention of tightening homeland security and preventing terrorism. His plan was to vastly cut down the number of refugees coming in every year. On October 24, 2017, he allowed entry of refugees from all but 11 countries including Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, etc. Trump had subjected these countries as a threat to the security of the United States. The refugees were subjected to a risk-based approach by the Trump administration on their admission. This included collection of all personal data including collecting biodata from the intelligence, making the screening process and background check more rigid. (Amadeo,2021)
In 2017, Trump had asked to review the H1-B visa policy. This visa is awarded to immigrants who immigrate to America with a Bachelor’s degree or higher. In March 2020, a lot of foreign workers working in the tech firms of the U.S. were suspended in light of the pandemic. In June 2020, Trump extended the suspension to the end of 2020. When this order was overruled in September, in October 2020, Trump brought in modifications to the process of obtaining the H1-B visa. The modification narrowed down the eligibility criteria - only the immigrants who were qualified to be paid equal to Americans would be granted the visa. Any low-wage employees shall not be awarded the same. Due to the pandemic, a lot of American’s had lost their jobs, and Trump took these measures to increase the employment rate of his own countrymen. However, the modification could affect a lot of big firms as they have a huge number of foreign employees who work there on the H1-B visa, for example, a lot of employees at Silicon Valley. (Amadeo,2021).
The Economic Impacts of Trump's Immigration Policy
It was reported that Trump’s immigration policy could lead to a massive economic downturn in the United States. As an estimate, immigrants add $1.6 trillion to the economy of the U.S. Out of these, the companies and the community in which they live, earn $35 billion. According to the National Research Council, immigrants cost the government of the U.S. between $11.4- $20.2 billion each year. They use the money much more in services than in paying taxes. They also cost the government less than Americans with equal qualifications (Amadeo,2021).
The Cato Institute had also reported that it would cost over $60 billion to deport all the 750,000 people who were protected by DACA. Deporting them all would also result in $280 billion reductions in the economic growth of the U.S. over the upcoming decade(Amadeo,2021).
Even though there was widespread irritation and dissatisfaction among members of the Indian community residing in America, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, and President of the United States, Donald Trump, have developed an alternate reality of friendship between the two nations a lot of times in public and diplomatic settings. . Modi and Trump have been spotted shaking hands and clicking informal pictures on several grounds. During the elections, a lot of BJP supporters were seen campaigning in India for Trump’s win. The two were also seen reaching the same conclusions on several international affairs. But the problems that Indians faced due to the immigration policies in the U.S. seemed to remain unaddressed and were never openly discussed between the two leaders during Trump’s time in office. (Schultz and Yasir,2020)
Biden's Foreign Policy Towards India
From his very first day of office, President Joe Biden has proposed to eliminate the immigration bill to provide green cards to undocumented employees, in order to support them by providing employment to the spouses of certain H1-B visa holders.
Post Trump, Indians are holding a lot of expectations from the Biden-Harris term, as Biden has promised to provide permanent residency to over 50,000 people of the Indian American community who are living in the country illegally. He has also promised to increase the number of work-based green cards once America’s economic condition is stabilized post the pandemic.
Acknowledging the efforts and economic contribution that come from the Indian immigrants in the U.S., President Biden proposed to modify a few measures that would benefit Indians, including increasing the visa quotas for STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths). The Biden-Harris administration would also work to modify the employment rights of the H-4 visa holders, which is issued to the family members financially dependent on the H1-B visa holders, who are eventually in the process of permanent residence (Hill, 2021).
With the struggle of America’s economic recovery, it is assumed that many Republicans and Democrats might obstruct the visa modifications. However, looking at the advantages, STEM graduates might be looked upon more favorably, as would the EB-5 investors. India in 2019 was reported to be the single largest applicant group of the EB-5 visa  (Hill, 2021).
The sudden immigration policy changes brought in by Trump after about two decades of liberal immigration policies in the US left people in agony. With Biden’s further restoration and improvement of the policies, there are chances of the India-U.S. relations developing positively in the future. Modi and Biden connected over a phone call for the second time when Biden took office in January. . The call, as reported by the White House and Indian Ministry of International Affairs, involved discussion of open and free Indo-Pacific ties and the assurance of a positive strategic partnership between the two countries. One could assess that the ties between India and the U.S. under the Biden era will continue to get stronger. (Dave,2020).
 Medicaid: A program by the U.S. government that pays for the medical treatment for low-income populations. https://www.medicaid.gov/
 EB-5 Investors: The United States EB-5 visa is an employment-based fifth preference visa category, which provides a method for eligible immigrant investors to become permanent residents of the country.
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