The Good and the Bad in the Stimulus Bill

After weeks of intense debate and nego­ti­a­tions, Con­gress passed an eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus pack­age that is head­ed to Pres­i­dent Obama’s desk for his sig­na­ture today. The final law includes spend­ing for domes­tic infra­struc­ture projects, fund­ing to state and local gov­ern­ments, and tax relief in the form of cuts and cred­its. The gov­ern­ment knew that it need­ed to take quick action to pull the econ­o­my out of its down­ward spi­ral, which has affect­ed everyone’s lives – from immi­grants and cit­i­zens, to stu­dents and seniors, to the wealthy and the work­ing-class.

No one can claim to be unscathed by the reces­sion that we are going through, includ­ing H‑1B work­ers. Vast num­bers of South Asians rely upon this visa, includ­ing lawyers, engi­neers, artists, and sci­en­tists. Yet many fear los­ing not only their jobs, but also their immi­gra­tion sta­tus, dur­ing these rough eco­nom­ic times. Take, for instance, Shali­ni, whose sto­ry was cap­tured by Lit­tle India

Shali­ni (name altered), who came to New York City from Mum­bai one year ago to work with Ernst & Young, is cop­ing with just such an even­tu­al­i­ty. With­in a few months she was pro­mot­ed from assis­tant man­ag­er to man­ag­er in her divi­sion. How­ev­er, in Novem­ber, the com­pa­ny let her go. Her first thought was, “How am I going to find anoth­er job in the next six weeks in this kind of envi­ron­ment?”

Shali­ni is on an H1‑B work per­mit, which means that if she does­n’t find work with­in 30 to 60 days, she has to leave the coun­try. Her prospects are bleak. Most com­pa­nies in the U.S., India and across the world have either frozen hir­ing or are sack­ing their work­force. Shali­ni has real­ized that there is no safe­ty net in the U.S. with­out a Green Card or cit­i­zen­ship. So she is fol­low­ing the exam­ple of sev­er­al NRIs [non-res­i­dent Indi­ans], who have applied to non‑U.S. com­pa­nies, sent resumes to con­tacts in cor­po­rate India, put up notices to sell their homes and fur­ni­ture, and post­poned plans to get mar­ried or start a fam­i­ly.”  [Lit­tle India]

These work­ers help build the vibrant inno­va­tion of this coun­try. In fact, Thomas Fried­man had a thought-pro­vok­ing piece in The New York Times recent­ly about how we need more immi­grants, not less, because it’s good for the Amer­i­can econ­o­my …

“We live in a tech­no­log­i­cal age where every study shows that the more knowl­edge you have as a work­er and the more knowl­edge work­ers you have as an econ­o­my, the faster your incomes will rise. There­fore, the cen­ter­piece of our stim­u­lus, the core dri­ving prin­ci­ple, should be to stim­u­late every­thing that makes us smarter and attracts more smart peo­ple to our shores. That is the best way to cre­ate good jobs.” [New York Times]

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Con­gress went the oth­er way on this issue. As part of the stim­u­lus bill, finan­cial insti­tu­tions receiv­ing fund­ing through the Depart­ment of Treasury’s Trou­bled Assets Relief Pro­gram (or TARP) intend­ed to sta­bi­lize the finan­cial mar­kets, must jump through extra hoops before they can hire H‑1B work­ers. Giv­en the immense con­tri­bu­tions of H‑1B work­ers to help Amer­i­ca remain on the cut­ting-edge, it makes you won­der if this is not only bad news for South Asians, but bad news for the econ­o­my.