Donald Trump’s message to bring jobs back to America has been loud and clear, but by no means is it new. With the rise of nationalist sentiment around the world, countries from the west to the east have been making moves to weed out the foreign worker population for years now.
The “America first” fever
On April 18, Trump signed an executive order to overhaul America’s H-1B program, which allows foreign employees to work in the US for up to six years.
Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” directive will force Indian IT firms—the top sponsors of visas from India— to rethink their recruitment models. Industry bigwigs like Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and Wipro, have been prepping for these restrictive measures for nearly a decade now with the knowledge that ramping up local hiring amidst America’s chronic skills shortage could prove to be a challenge.
Amid the winds of uncertainty that have been raging since Trump’s elections, many Indians in the US have been looking to return home. This year, for the first time in five years, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) saw a decline in the number of H-1B applicants. Simultaneously, the number of Indians in the US searching for jobs in India has gone up more than 10-fold between December and March, according to an analysis by consulting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, shared exclusively with Mint. In the last month of 2016, approximately 600 US-based Indians were seeking jobs in India. By the end of last month, there were around 7,000.
Clampdown in the UK
The UK is increasingly less hospitable for Indian students and workers alike.
In 2012, the country abolished its post-study work visa that let fresh graduates remain in the country for two years after graduation, so all those who did not graduate with a job in hand had to pack their bags and leave. The government also raised the maintenance funds (living expenses) a student needed to have in their bank accounts by 24% in 2015, shutting out some of the internal student population because of the ballooning cost. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of first-year Indians enrolling in UK universities dropped 10% from 11,270 to 10,125.
Indian workers, who hold nearly 60% of the skilled foreign worker visas in the UK, faced similar woes as the country raised the salary threshold for different visas and added new English language requirements. Under the new rules, Tier 2 short-term intra-company transfers—the provision under which Indian tech companies typically take their workers to the UK—would be discontinued. This change went into effect on April 6.
Although British Chancellor Phillip Hammond assured India that efforts to shrink migration of less-skilled labour would not impact India adversely, that did not hold true. At least 30,000 Indian software professionals currently working in the UK will not have their work permits renewed, India’s National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) told The Hindu Business Line.
Singapore’s quiet retreat
The 5.6-million-strong island nation of Singapore has upped the resistance against Indian techies in recent years. In order to make sure that companies have a “Singapore core,” and to address concerns about overpopulation, officials have been “shutting the tap down” on Indian workers, according to Nasscom.
In 2015, Singapore adopted the Fair Consideration Framework to ensure employers are considering Singaporeans for vacancies. It requires, among other things, that an employer with over 25 employees advertise a vacancy for two weeks before applying for an employment pass for an international worker. Singaporean authorities are also reportedly asking Indian tech companies based in the region to carry out labor market testing, which Nasscom says violates the 2005 economic cooperation agreement between the two countries. Other measures to curb foreign worker populations include raising the bar for salaries and English proficiency.
Before these recent efforts, Indian tech companies were awarded between 5,000 and 10,000 work permits each year. Recently, the total population of Indian techies in Singapore has shriveled to under 10,000, NDTV reported. Applications—which typically took two to four weeks to process—have been held up for months, Nasscom said.
Putting Australians first
On April 18, the same day as president Trump’s announcement, Australia abolished its 457 visa, which allowed employers to sponsor skilled foreign talent to work in the country for up to four years. The largest proportion—roughly a quarter—of these visas are held by Indians. This comes a year after the government set limits on which types of occupations that outsiders could apply for under the visa.
“We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians,” prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced in a Facebook video.
Australia is replacing the 457 visa with two new types of temporary visas—one that lasts two years and another that lasts four. The criteria to acquire these visas are getting tougher: applicants will have to demonstrate previous work experience and a high level of English language proficiency. To make sure that locals get a fair shake, Australia will also mandate labor market testing wherein employers must first attempt to find an Australian citizen or permanent resident for a job role, before hiring an international worker.
A survey revealed that more than 70% of the 457 visa holders said they planned to apply (pdf) for permanent citizenship. The 90,000 temporary workers currently in the country won’t be affected. Plans for those who had wished to live and work in Australia in the future, however, have been foiled.
New Zealand shuts the door
A day after Australia’s announcement, its next door neighbor New Zealand also blocked foreign workers in a bid to put Kiwis first.
The overhaul of the visa program aims to alleviate concerns about housing shortages, road congestion, and overcrowding in major cities, the Guardian reported. “It’s important that our immigration settings are attracting the right people, with the right skills, to help fill genuine skill shortages and contribute to our growing economy,” immigration minister Michael Woodhouse said. To qualify as high-skilled labor, workers will have to earn at least 150% of the median income.
The rising nationalism is going to cost Indians deeply. They have consistently been in among the top three sources of migrants to New Zealand over the last decade, coming in first since 2014. Indians are also the second-largest and fastest-growing international student population in New Zealand but with job prospects dimming due to visa constraints, the trend might come to a halt.