For those looking to emigrate to the United States, the H-1B visa (intended for those deemed “highly skilled” workers) seems to be synonymous with the American dream: hard work, patience and perseverance can allow you to forge a bright future in the Silicon Valley seems to embody this idea — immigrants have contributed vastly to the tech industry, which has the fastest growing economy of any region in California.
Thus, it is surprising that advertisements that appear to show anti-immigrant sentiment have been seen in the region. The ads target U.S. workers, and say, “Your company thinks you are expensive, undeserving, and expendable!” It urges Congress to “fix US H-1B laws so companies must seek & hire US [sic] workers!” This was paid for by the D.C.-based organization, Progressives for Immigration Reform, which, according to its mission statement, seeks to “educate the public on the unintended consequences of mass migration.” They have been designated “anti-immigrant” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit specializing in public interest litigation.
Executive Director Kevin Lynn of PFIR has claimed that the intentions of the group are simply to fix an H-1B system that he says is broken, preventing its misuse both by corporations who basically import cheap labor at what is presumably the cost of U.S. employment, while also denying resulting immigrants proper pay, freedom or flexibility. However, the advertisement’s message, placement and timing have more dangerous implications than an even-handed debate on immigration to this tech metropolis. The ads were spotted on trains in San Francisco and Oakland – areas that are highly populated with immigrant workers and U.S. citizens commuting to and from their jobs with major tech companies. The timing of the ad coincides with the season for filing applications for H-1B as well. The language of the advertisements seems designed to provoke U.S. tech workers, pitting U.S. citizens against immigrants — combined with placement and timing, this seems to give immigrants a message that has become an condition of President Donald Trump’s America: immigrants are not welcome here.
As an international student in the United States, this is a disconcerting message to hear. We have the U.S. increasing restrictions and constraints on immigration on one hand, and a growing international student population on the other — particularly at NYU. While Chinese and Indian students make up the largest proportion of the international student body at this university, the largest proportion of H-1B applicants are of these two nationalities as well. Students who aspire to work in the United States after graduation now not only have to worry about receiving a job with increased visa restrictions, but have to contend with possible animosity and hostility, inflamed by organizations such as PFIR. While the organization does make a point that the H-1B visa program has been exploited in different ways by corporations and individuals, its inflammatory advertisement is disturbing because it adds to the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that already exists – it is just different ethnicities and nationalities added to the list. Finding a space of respect, or even just of physical and emotional safety seems to be a challenge in light of the waves of social activism in the U.S.: whether one is an immigrant worker seen as a threat to U.S. jobs, a victim of a travel ban induced by Islamophobia, or from a “shithole” country.
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Email Diya Radhakrishna at [email protected].