What a remarkable, man-bites-dog article in The Hindu, a major Indian paper! Here we see Trump defending the H-1B visa program in 2015 to the man who would last week became his new campaign chief. Very interesting stuff, and it sheds a bit more light on what the press — and oddly, Trump himself — characterized as a reversal of his stance on H-1B in October 15.
To review: On August 16, 2015, Trump announced his platform on immigration. It was rather detailed, and was quite good on H-1B, from my point of view. Sadly, though, he “clarified” his position a couple of days later, saying
When foreigners attend our great colleges & want to stay in the U.S., they should not be thrown out of our country…I want talented people to come into this country—to work hard and to become citizens. Silicon Valley needs engineers, etc.
I took (and still take) this to mean that the candidate supports Staple a Green Card, a proposal under which automatic green cards would be granted to any foreign student earning a Master’s or PhD in STEM at a U.S. university. This would be an unwarranted policy that would do just as much damage as H-1B is doing today, so I was profoundly disappointed. I wrote, “Somebody got to him.”
Later, on March 3 of this year, Trump made news by stating in a Republican debate that he had revised his position on H-1B. But that wasn’t the case at all; he simply stated the position that he had staked out in his August 2015 clarification.
But the article in The Hindu reveals new details. Trump adopted the industry lobbyists’ favorite tack — cite a story of a foreign student whom the U.S. lost due to lack of a visa, in this case Kunal Bahl who founded a company called Snapdeal in India. These stories are usually misleading, and in Bahl’s case, based on a false premise; the lobbyists presented this as a “He could have founded the company here” story, when in fact the company’s success has been in India, catering to Indian tastes and market structure. Good for Bahl, but I believe it is fair to say he likely would not have been able to do this in the U.S.
At any rate, the article in The Hindu shows us more of how Trump was swayed to “clarify” his original stance. One can easily see the slick lobbyists painting a convincing picture for him on H-1B (and who knows, maybe Peter Thiel was in the mix too). And the fact that Trump had actually tried to convince the man who later would become his campaign manager about the value of H-1B is rather mind boggling.
I should say that there are some who disagree with my reading of Trump’s “clarification.” They point out that Trump uses language like that in the article, listing “Harvard or Princeton, Penn, Stanford,” suggesting that he only wants to accept the really top foreign students — just like I have advocated for years. But I really doubt this. Trump is using too much of the lobbyists’ favorite language (“find a way that they can stay here”) for it to be a coincidence. This is the usual Intels Yes, Infosyses No tech industry argument.
It is certainly unfair, though, that the press and the Democrats are making so much hay of the fact that over the years, Trump himself has hired H-1Bs. He has explained that, saying that as a businessman he had to take advantage of available options, but it is a bad program and he would fix it as president. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has NOT repudiated her longtime coziness with the Infosyses, and seems to have no intention of switching as president. Yet it is Trump, not Clinton, who gets the bad press on this.