A US Presidential Election is never only about the citizens of the United States of America, even though they are the only ones who get to decide who becomes their next President. Historically, US Presidents have often de facto assumed the role of the leader of the world order. They have intervened to broker peace, promote diplomatic relations between countries in conflict or took sides in the conflict, and send their military troops into wars that weren’t necessarily their own. They have pressured the United Nations to levy sanctions on countries that don’t toe the line and have aided trade relations worldwide.
Beyond their powers in foreign affairs and geopolitical matters, however, US Presidents are also instrumental in deciding the ideologies that shape the political landscape. For instance, currently, a right-wing wave is sweeping through world politics, with Donald Trump leading the way. A US President is also the torchbearer of the human race in pressing matters such as climate change and global health-related policies. Perhaps that is why people from across the world, especially those hooked on to social media, in the urban pockets of their countries, have been following the close race between Joseph Biden and Donald Trump in the 2020 US presidential election, with alleviated anxiety levels.
In India, too, this year’s US presidential poll has generated an unprecedented buzz among the urban population. While the central point of debates and discussions at the administrative level is about who will make a better ally for the Indian government — Trump or Biden, for the general public- especially those who are already immigrant and living in the US or aim to pursue a career in that country — whether Trump returns for a second-inning is a cause of personal concern.
Firstly, many Indians’ interest in this election is because of Trump’s immigration policies, which have affected thousands of upper caste, high-income immigrant individuals directly. Anti-immigration laws have been at the core of Trump’s policymaking since he assumed office in 2016. In fact, his 2016 election campaign itself was built on the promise of strict border laws and more employment opportunities for Americans by making stringent immigration laws. Indians, including many other immigrant communities, have experienced firsthand the result of such policies during Trump’s presidency in the last four years.
Trump has staggered the inflow of skilled workers from other countries in the US and attacked family-based migration. During his presidency, student visas have gone down by two percent. Therefore, Trump’s re-election won’t be good news for thousands of Indian students hoping to apply to US universities in the coming years. In fact, since the pandemic started, Indian students already studying in the US have faced considerable uncertainty regarding their visa status, as Trump abruptly declared that those international students availing online classes wouldn’t be permitted to stay back in the US. This move evoked a massive backlash from ivy league institutes like Harvard and MIT.
While the Trump administration has been amenable to giving more temporary visas, they are stringent in issuing permanent visas, which has gone down by 13 percent. This isn’t good news for thousands of members of the Indian diaspora in the US, who have been there for years and hope to make a future in that country. However, the biggest problem that Indians have encountered regarding the Trump administration’s immigration policies is the increasing hurdles in acquiring H1-B visas.
According to a Forbes report, in 2020, the US received nearly 275,000 unique registration requests for the 85,000 H-1B visas available for foreign technology professionals. Of these, more than 67 percent are from India. However, there has been a sharp decline in the number of visas issued in the last year, which has clearly impacted several Indians. The report states, “According to the Department of State, while 13,678 H-1B visas were issued in May 2019, only 143 were issued in May 2020."
Trump aims to abolish the computerized lottery system for allocating H1-B visas, a randomized selection procedure to choose the visa candidates. Instead, he wants to implement a wage-based system, where candidates will be selected based on their salaries, making it harder for Indian applicants to receive visas because their wages aren’t high enough. The pandemic again has added to the already increasing visa obstacle and made many migrant Indians’ lives uncertain during this crisis. According to a report, “In the middle of June, Trump had announced a suspension on the entry of foreign workers (and therefore, issuance of new immigrant visas) until the end of the year."
A nail-biting race
A few days ago, ex-US President Barack Obama vehemently criticized Donald Trump for treating the presidency as “a reality show to give him the attention he craves." Unfortunately, even during this election, Trump has brought the same dramatic intensity and outrageous claims that one would expect to find only in reality shows. Frankly, it is hard to look away, even for Indians who have no aspiration of settling in the US, and therefore, don’t care about the immigration laws at all.
Many of us have found ourselves checking the US election updates during our daily IPL fix in the past days, and the reason for that is perhaps Trump himself. He has evolved as one of the most polarizing leaders in the history of the United States, and whether one likes his politics or hates it, he is definitely hard to ignore. As the nail-biting electoral race continues, it is also becoming increasingly clear that this US election is not just a fight between two politicians, but a battle of ideology for its citizens.
While the counting was still on, Trump had declared, “Frankly, we did win this election,” even though he wasn’t near the 270 electoral college votes he needs to be victorious. He has also claimed that he would take the election to the supreme court for final judgment.
Most liberal Indians who dislike Trump’s penchant for exaggerating facts and making false claims have found themselves rooting for Biden, not particularly because they agree with Biden’s politics or even knows a lot about it. But, because he is a foil for Trump. It does help that Biden is liberal, and his immigration manifesto reflects a much more lenient approach. But what he represents is inconsequential compared to the fact that he stands for everything that is NOT Donald Trump.
However, Trump is not devoid of support among Indians altogether, and there are many who are closely watching this election and praying for his win. Some groups believe him to be a good diplomatic friend for our country and an ally against Pakistan and China. According to a report in Quartz, “On Nov 3, a Hindu fringe group, Hindu Sena, offered special prayers for Trump in a 30-minute long ceremony in New Delhi. This is not the first time the group has shown its support for the US president."
Global health and climate change
However, liberal Indians fear that Trump’s re-election might cause more challenges for India in coping with issues like the ongoing pandemic and climate change.
Trump had already submitted a notice for withdrawal of funding from the World Health Organisation, which will come to effect from next July. It is hard to say if the pandemic will be under control by then. However, if it is not, then countries such as ours, which already has a poor healthcare system, are likely to be at the receiving end of the budget cuts that WHO will be forced to implement. The US funds are currently used for vaccine development and TB program run by WHO, and the largest recipient of those funds is Africa. But, it is hard to say how they would redistribute the minimal funds they would be left with after the US stops funding. In India, WHO is an integral part of the immunization process and runs programs for women and child nutrition, food safety, and several other much-needed issues, which might face setbacks due to lack of funds.
Today, as we eagerly wait for the election results, Trump is also formally withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, which he had announced long back in 2017. This withdrawal too has an impact on India’s effort to focus on renewable energy. According to a scroll.in report, “For India to invest in renewable energy and other means to combat climate change, it will need the billions of dollars in aid that had been promised by developed countries in the pact." However, with the US withdrawing, getting that aid will be difficult now. In fact, Trump had cited the ‘aids’ received by countries like ours, as the reason for the pact being ‘unfair’ to the US and had built his 2016 election campaign around the criticism of the Paris Climate Agreement.
However, if the US selects a different President in this election, or Trump changes his mind (which is highly unlikely), the country can join back the agreement at any time.