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7,000 immigrants from India in Kankas (US) Threatened by Visa Changes and Ethnic Violence

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Kansas City and surrounding towns are home to over 7,000 Indians and Indian Americans (R. Taylor/VOA)
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USA, May 4, 2017: Nearly 7,000 immigrants from India live in greater Kansas City, Kansas, in the middle of the U.S. and on the border between two red states.

Temples, Indian grocery stores, and restaurants have been serving the community for decades.

But now proposed changes to H1-B visa policies could leave many of the Indian-Americans in Kansas City and across the U.S. without jobs and, potentially, forced to return home.

President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order aimed at making it harder for companies to hire skilled foreign workers under the H1-B visa program. Overwhelmingly, those workers have come from India. The U.S. government reports that in 2015, 71% of H1-B visa holders were Indian.

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“I may lose my opportunities and my career may be done,” said Akhil Kodaru, a project manager at the Sprint telecommunications company in Kansas City.

Sprint, which largely hires H1-B visa holders through contracting companies, has had multiple large-scale layoffs in recent years, and many employees believe that should the company be required to vastly increase the salaries for these visa holders, they would be fired. Increasing salaries is one proposal that has been made to reform the H1-B visa program.

The Trump order called for a multi-agency review of the program which will take time, and visa holders in Kansas City are trying to reserve panic for when the full consequences of the proposed action become clearer.

“If you start worrying today then you cannot do your job,” said Vijaykumar Kalimuthu Ponnusamy. “We are here to do the job, at this point – spend some time with the family, friends, and at work – and we can be proactive in …understand(ing) the law and then be prepared for what it is.”

Like many Indians here, Ponnusamy is choosing to remain calm and continue to plant roots in the city.

Hate crime

The Indian community has also been touched by violence.

Srinivas Kuchibhotla was killed and Alok Madasani, injured, as they enjoyed an after-work drink at Austins Bar and Grill in the suburb of Olathe last February.Charged with the shootings, Adam Purinton (51) had been heard earlier making ethnic slurs about the two men.

Both men worked as engineers at GPS-maker Garmin, and both were members of one of the 24 cricket teams supported by the community.

One of the 24 cricket teams in Kansas City practices on a shared field in the town of Olathe (R. Taylor/VOA)
One of the 24 cricket teams in Kansas City practices on a shared field in the town of Olathe (R. Taylor/VOA)

A team member says the shooting has changed the play. “We don’t get that upset because we have our set of arguments on the ground over the game but that always stays in the back of your heart now,” Hemant Tiwari, captain of one of the teams based in Olathe, told VOA.

Though the initial shock of the hate crime has largely worn off, many Indians see the city they call home differently.

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Brijpal Singh, a board member of the Indian Association of Kansas City and 20-year resident of the area, said he cannot help but be more cautious.

“Earlier, if I had to get groceries at 11, 12 at night I would get in my car and just go,” Singh told VOA. “But now…there is some fear. You start thinking, ‘Am I as free to move around as I was, or do I have to think again before I make a decision to go out at odd hours of the night?’”

Cricket league

Made up mostly of South Asians, the cricket league has grown and spread to share a small number of fields with other sports leagues such as rugby.

Since the shooting, the government of Kansas has promised to build a real cricket pitch. The gesture means a lot to the community.

Anil Singh, a cricket player in Olathe, has been in the area for nearly ten years and just last month became a U.S. citizen. Though he worries for his friends on H1-B visas and was shaken by the shooting, he said he is not considering leaving, although he had never planned to stay so long.

“We moved here from New York City and we never thought…I mean who goes to Kansas, right?” He told VOA, running to meet us from bowling a round at cricket practice.“But now, yeah, picket fence, house, dog, kids!”

The cricket league, which started as a few Sprint employees playing in the company campus’s basketball court, is just one of many activities South Asians in the Kansas City area can participate in.

“I think in other bigger cities like New York and all people are really too busy to even socialize with each other,” Singh’s wife Ajit Marhas said.

“But here it’s a very small community so weekends are always busy with them – they are like family.” (VOA)

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India Urges China to Open Markets For Trade

“When people make a price comparison and want to move towards the cheapest goods, those are usually Chinese products.”

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Sampad Yadav, the owner of a shop carrying electrical goods in a market in Gurugram near New Delhi, says people are drawn to Chinese products such as LED lights because they are more competitively priced. VOA

Sampad Yadav, who sells electrical goods in a shop in the business hub of Gurugram on the outskirts of New Delhi, says Chinese goods such as LED lamps are popular with customers. “When people make a price comparison and want to move towards the cheapest goods, those are usually Chinese products.”

As in many other countries, Chinese products such as lamps, electronics, smartphones and engineering goods from the manufacturing giant have flooded Indian markets.

However, India has long fretted that areas in which it is strong such as generic drugs and Information Technology services, which make up some of its main exports to Western markets, remain shut out of China. That has made it difficult to bridge a ballooning trade deficit of about $50 billion between the two countries.

ALSO READ: China emerges as one of the fastest-growing sources of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into India

But there is optimism this could change following a meeting this week between the commerce ministers of the two countries in New Delhi.

“The Chinese side have agreed to work on the issue, prepare a roadmap to bring the trade to balanced level over a period of time,” Indian Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu said after discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Zhong Shan.

Trade experts hope the growing tensions on trade issues between the United States and China will prompt Beijing to open up its markets more to Indian exports. “I think China is definitely under pressure now, looking into the kind of initiation which has happened against China,” says Ajay Sahai, who heads the Federation of Indian Exports Organization.

The meeting between the Indian and Chinese commerce ministers this week came amid efforts to de-escalate tensions between the Asian neighbors following a period of rocky ties and a tense 70-day face-off between their troops in the Himalayas last year.

india-china trade
Products such as lights and lamps sold in Indian shops are predominantly Chinese.Products such as lights and lamps sold in Indian shops are predominantly Chinese. VOA

Despite a long-lingering boundary dispute and an often-fraught diplomatic relationship, trade ties between the Asian giants have gained significant momentum and China is now India’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade in 2017 topped $80 billion rising by more than 20 percent over the previous year.

But worryingly for New Delhi, the trade deficit remains high despite a marginal growth in Indian exports – they add up to about $16 billion versus Chinese imports into India of about $68 billion.

ALSO READ: India China’s Fight Over the Doklam Plateau Explained

Market access a key issue

India exports mainly raw materials like iron ore, copper and cotton yarn to China. “In whatever value-added exports where we are competitive, unfortunately, the market is not open for us,” says Sahai.

However, China has promised to give greater market access to Indian goods, particularly pharmaceuticals and agricultural goods such as rice, as well as service exports, according to the Indian commerce minister. “They have decided to work in a way that will address security issues from their side as well as introduce Indian companies to those who can buy these products in China,” says Prabhu.

New Delhi, which is trying to ramp up domestic manufacturing, is also urging China to manufacture more goods exported to India within the country.

india-china trade
Generic drugs produced by Indian pharmaceutical companies make medicines affordable, but India says that China does not provide market access to its generic drugs. VOA

ALSO READ: China is likely to get involved if India disrupts $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in restive Balochistan

Whether the promised actions translate into concrete outcomes remains to be seen. But exporters are hopeful. Sahai points out that China has invited Indian traders to what is being billed as the country’s first importers fair to be held in Shanghai later this year – it is being showcased as a measure to further open up China’s market.

The positive tenor of talks between the two countries comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to impose tariffs on Chinese imports valued at $60 billion.

New Delhi could also face U.S. ire on trade issues – although its exports to the United States are comparatively small, it has a high trade deficit in its favor and Washington has often complained of protectionist barriers in India. In February, Trump called out India for imposing higher duties on Harley-Davidson motorcycles than the U.S. does on Indian motorbikes.

Amid growing fears that global trade faces uncertain times, analysts have called on countries like India to focus on increasing trade within the region.

India and China also said they will strengthen cooperation in the World Trade Organization and other multilateral and regional frameworks to maintain their common interests. VOA