The Indian IT sector was in uproar yesterday. An American bill had aimed to raise the minimum salary paid to H-1B visa holders from $60,000 to $130,000. This meant that large numbers of Indian IT professionals, who’re paid much less than the new minimum, could stand to lose their plush jobs abroad. There had been calls against American protectionism, and US President Donald Trump had been criticized for introducing yet another policy that was aimed against foreigners.
What remained missing from the discussion is that India has a very similar minimum salary requirement for foreigners.
For decades, India has mandated that foreigners employed in India must earn a minimum annual salary of $25,000 to be eligible for a work visa. This translates to Rs. 17 lakh per year, a very generous salary by Indian standards. The reasons for this are remarkably similar to the reasons being discussed in the US – the limit had apparently “been set on the ground that jobs in India should be protected for Indians, unless there was a real need to hire from abroad.” There are exceptions to the rule, but they kind of prove the point – “ethnic cooks” are exempt from the requirement, as are teachers for languages other than English.
This rule made it hard for foreigners to find work in India – a minimum Rs. 17 lakh annual salary disqualifies certain professions all together, and makes it impossible for foreigners to find entry level jobs in India. This meant that foreign professors couldn’t come and teach in India – Indian colleges often couldn’t afford to pay the minimum salary, and foreigners did not find it financially feasible to work for less. Foreign spouses of Indian citizens who couldn’t find jobs that paid at least Rs. 17 lakh had no choice but to remain unemployed.
After much lobbying, the limit was reduced by 40% to around Rs. 10 lakh per year.
But the Rs. 10 lakh limit still exists, and still prevents foreigners from working where they please in the country. That makes the argument of letting Indians work in US at any wage at all seem disingenuous – if we ourselves impose limits on what qualifies as an acceptable salary for a foreigner in India, we have no moral ground to expect the US to be different. It’s a globalized world, and countries have a right to give back as they get.