Washington, Oct 25: President Barack Obama has made a renewed push for comprehensive immigration reform, voicing support for a bill that the Indian IT industry fears would stem the flow of Indian professionals to the US.
“Let’s not wait,” Obama told an audience of activists at the White House Thursday. “It doesn’t get easier to just put it off. Let’s do it now. Let’s not delay. Let’s get this done and let’s do it in a bipartisan fashion.”
Speaking amid an embarrassingly glitch-ridden rollout of his signature healthcare law, he said the fate of a bipartisan Senate bill crafted by the so-called gang of eight – four Democrats and four Republicans- now rests with Republicans in the House.
“Anyone still standing in the way of this bipartisan reform should at least explain why,” he said to repeated applause from the audience that included leaders from labour, business, faith and South Asian and other immigrant communities.
“If House Republicans have new and different additional ideas for how we should move forward, then we should hear them. I will be listening.”
The Senate passed legislation in June by a vote of 68-32 providing a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, including about 360,000 Indians.
“It doesn’t make sense to have 11 million people who are in this country illegally without any … way to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, meet their responsibility and permit their families, then, to move ahead,” Obama said.
But top Indian outsourcing firms as also the US-India Business Council (USIBC), a trade lobby comprising about 350 top US firms doing business with India complain that the Senate bill puts discriminatory restrictions on Indian firms.
According to one estimate current provisions of the Bill would double visa-related costs for Indian companies and restrict the ability of Indian software firms to send engineers on H1B visas to client locations for crucial outsourcing projects.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh raised the issue last month in a meeting with Obama who promised that India’s concerns would be looked into. Last month, USIBC and five former US ambassadors to India also wrote to senators in this regard.
But Republican lawmakers in the House have their own ideas on the bill. They prefer reform on a piecemeal basis and that border security measures must be put in place before the status of undocumented immigrants can be discussed.
Obama himself sounded pessimistic about the passage of comprehensive immigration reform in a deeply divided polity particularly after the spat over the 16-day government shut down over his healthcare law.
“Just because something is smart and fair and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labour and the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done,” he said. “This is Washington after all.”
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)