For a second time in as many days, Indian-American Republican White House aspirant Vivek Ramaswamy has criticised the popular H-1B visa programme, saying the current "lottery" system needs to be "gutted" and replaced with a "meritocratic" skill-based immigration scheme to match the needs of the US.
“It's a lottery. Why on earth would you use a lottery when you could use meritocratic admission instead, restore merit," Ramaswamy told Fox News in an interview on Sunday.
The H-1B visa, much sought-after among Indian IT professionals, is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
“We have to gut that system, restore meritocratic immigration, which is skills, not just tech skills, but all kinds of skills to match the needs we have in this country, but also civic commitments to this country. Take the citizenship test on the back end. I say move it to the front end even to get a visa,” Ramaswamy said.
"There's also lobbying-based provisions where companies who sponsor somebody, that H-1B immigrant cannot work for a different company unless they actually have a whole bureaucratic process to go through,” the 38-year-old biotech entrepreneur, who is vying with former US president Donald Trump and others to get the Republican Party's nomination for the 2024 presidential election, said.
Ramaswamy's latest remark comes a day after he told Politico that the H-1B system is "bad for everyone" involved.
“So yes I come from a place of understanding. And I've played within the rules given to us by the government, but part of my job as US president is to reform those rules to help all Americans. And I won't apologise for restoring merit,” said Ramaswamy, whose former company Roivant Sciences used the programme 29 times from 2018 through 2023 to hire foreign employees under H-1B visas.
Ramaswamy stepped down as chief executive officer of Roivant, a pharmaceutical company, in February 2021 but remained the chair of the company’s board of directors until February this year when he announced his presidential campaign.
As of March 31, the company and its subsidiaries had 904 full-time employees, including 825 in the US, according to its Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
“The lottery system needs to be replaced by actual meritocratic admission. It’s a form of indentured servitude that only accrues to the benefit of the company that sponsored an H-1B immigrant. I’ll gut it,” the multimillionaire told Politico.
“The people who come as family members are not the meritocratic immigrants who make skills-based contributions to this country,” the White House aspirant said, adding that the US needed to eliminate chain-based migration.
When asked about the mismatch in the Republican presidential hopeful’s policy stance and his past business practices, his press secretary Tricia McLaughlin said the role of a policymaker “is to do what’s right for a country overall: the system is broken and needs to be fixed”.
“Vivek believes that regulations overseeing the US energy sector are badly broken, but he still uses water and electricity,” she said in a statement. “This is the same.”
Ramaswamy, who is himself the child of immigrants, has captured headlines for his restrictionist immigration policy agenda.
He also said he would use military force to secure the border, and that he would deport US-born children of undocumented immigrants.
H-1B visas are highly sought after, and the demand for these workers continues to increase. For fiscal year 2021, US businesses submitted 780,884 applications for just 85,000 available slots, jumping by more than 60 per cent.
Every year, the US gives 65,000 H-1B visas which are open to all and 20,000 to those with advanced US degrees.
Ramaswamy's harsh proposals have helped him stand out in the crowded primary field, according to US media reports.
Last week, Ramaswamy said he would fire 75 per cent of the federal workforce if elected the President.
Ramaswamy has garnered attention after his maiden Republican presidential primary debate held on August 23.
The first poll after the debate said that 28 per cent of the 504 respondents said that Ramaswamy performed the best.
He was followed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis with 27 per cent, and former vice president Mike Pence (13 per cent). Indian-American Nikki Haley received seven per cent of the votes.