Category Archives: home-news

Bitcoin: Boom or bust?

WASHINGTON – While the cloud of political uncertainty and nuclear provocation dominates mainstream politics and news, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies continue to thrive in the absence of regulation and standards-based control.  Earlier today, Bitcoin jumped over $10,000. Some experts say it could rise even further. How did Bitcoin surge to this astronomical rate? Is it still a profitable investment, despite its current value? Or, the bubble will burst and cause financial ruin for its holders? We examine these questions and more.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is the world’s most popular crypto/virtual currency. It has a ‘tainted’ history, initially being employed in non-traceable digital transactions that involved ransoms and purchase of illegal items on the internet. Bitcoin is not tied to any banks/governments and allows for anonymous transactions.

Astronomical rise and value

Financial markets fluctuate – that’s just a fact. But Bitcoin’s fluctuation, and more accurately rise, has been iconic. It was created in 2009 and was valued at $0.05 in 2010. Fast forward to May of 2017, it touched an all-time high of $2,420. As of November 2017, it rose a little over 4.5 times to hit $10,955! (Current value of bitcoin can be found here)

Boom or bust?

Experts suggest that such ascents are rarely sustainable. And although Bitcoin’s recent trajectory has been manic to say the least, it has shown real uses. Retail investors have piled in, we have seen rise of alternatives (like Litecoin, Ethereum), and “initial coin offerings” (ICOs), in which firms issue digital tokens of their own.

Many people have drawn parallels to gold, where there might be more than just a passing resemblance. Goldbugs mistrust governments and their money-printing tendencies. They also prefer the absence of a central bank/institution that is in charge of their currency. But Bitcoin is more ambitious. It is trying to compete with the dollars, euros, and yens of the world.

Regulators too have a keen eye on the trajectory of Bitcoin. And since there has been no action on that front, bitcoin is operating at its limits and its developers cannot agree on how to increase the number of exchanges the system is able to handle. As a result, each transaction can cost up to $4 in fees and can take hours to confirm.

Bitcoin and Blockchain

Bitcoin can be best understood when paralleled to the rise of the internet. It embodies innovation, technology, and innovation in technology. Crypotcurrencies are experiments to realize how to maintain public databases (blockchain), WITHOUT an entity being in charge. At least two states in India are currently testing blockchain to record land deals (see reference). It is clear that such transactions/records need to be secured and that can be a challenging task in today’s digital world. Fans hope that the rise of such entities will give rise to disruptive and decentralized innovators, challenging today’s technological oligopolists like Amazon and Facebook.

What is of prime importance here is the relation between financial markets, technology and regulation. From the sounds of it, this seems a rather dangerous way of generating innovation. According to the Economist however, risks in crypotcurrencies are limited. They argue that investors are aware of risks involved and that cryptocurrencies are self-contained systems, unlikely to cause contagion. They go on to remark that regulators should be wary of such currencies becoming even more popular for criminal activity, but heed caution on enhanced regulation as it would lead to loss of financial assets, and perhaps more importantly, innovation that might follow.

Source: AP and The EconomistThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

A ‘new language’ in Asia: The Indo-Pacific

New Delhi, INDIA – President Donald Trump has been in office for a little under 10 months. In this time, he hasn’t been solely focused on revamping domestic policies, but also on remaking America’s foreign policy. American policy for the vast region between India and Australia, for decades, has been referred to as the “Asia-Pacific”.

Now however, as Trump embarked on his 12-day Asia tour, a ‘new’ term is starting to gain mainstream and more importantly, official status: Indo-Pacific.

Axios sat down with Richard McGregor, a longtime Asia correspondent and former Financial Times bureau chief to read between the lines. McGregor noted that such a switch indicates a new language for America’s role in Asia. It attempts to bring India permanently into the US web of alliances and its a precursor to a new partnership in the region between the US, India, Japan and Australia.

The usage of the term is already becoming popular. National Security Adviser, H. R. McMaster, used it repeatedly while previewing Trump’s trip to Asia in front of reporters. Trump himself used the term publicly while remarking at a cabinet meeting last week. During his visit to India, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, used it at least 15 times.

Although the term itself is not recent, its prescribed application shows a clear plan and strategy. North Korea in the short-term and China in the long-term pose threats to American interests. A revised strategy in dealing with such actors is most basic step in reorganizing and re-prioritizing relations. “A free and open Indo-Pacific speaks to that vision, that we want to see the continued stability. we want to reaffirm our commitment to the continued stability of this region, allowing for freedom of navigation, allow fort he marketplace and free markets, really, to drive the prosperity of this region”, a White House official said.

The Trump administration’s efforts are a clear indicator and a clear message for the US and India to strengthen ties even more as a way to balance China. “The United States supports India’s emergence as a leading power and will continue to contribute to Indian capabilities to provide security throughout the region,” Tillerson noted during a joint press-conference with Swaraj, the minister for external affairs.

Interestingly, Tillerson also touched upon India’s diplomatic ties with North Korea as the US continues and escalates its efforts to isolate Pyongyang. Swaraj responded by stating that although relations with Pyongyang exist (to the extent of a presence of embassies in either capitals), such basic access must be maintained to keep channel of communication open. India has already moved to ban trade of goods, except food and medicine, to join the US in its efforts.

What makes for good news is the strengthening of Indo-US relations and an official acknowledgement from the US, with respect to India’s capability in play a definitive goal in its region. The US must naturally see India as a partner in the region. That is pivotal for a stable and prosperous ‘Indo-Pacific’.

Source: Axios, TOI and Reuters. Image courtesy Reuters.


Russian troll ads from 2016 election released; show sophistication and planning

WASHINGTON – On Tuesday representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google testified in front of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. As has been widely speculated and reported on, Russian interference in the 2016 election has found to be broader and more sophisticated than initially assumed.

More than a 100 million Americans have been expected to come across content created by Russian troll farms. Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, outlined in his opening statement how as many as 126 million Facebook users may have seen content “that originated from the Russian operation.”

This content was specifically aimed at dividing Americans. These troll farms created and shared content on both sides of the political debate, giving rise to all kinds of inflammatory and, in some cases, downright offensive content. Similar practices were found by Twitter executives on their own platforms. Twitter explained how they have uncovered 2,572 Russia-linked accounts and more than 36,000 automated “bots” – amounting to a total of 1.4 million tweets about the election last fall.

These revelations sparked outrage from lawmakers. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who has been a strong ally of Silicon Valley, said “in the past election, you failed.” Republican Senator John Kennedy expressed his frustration with the Facebook as well, noting “I think you do enormous good, but your power scares me.”

It is now clear, from released documents, that the major aim of this Russian-sponsored operation was to create chaos and political discontent within the American community. One particular instance where this is highlighted can be found is Texas. A Russian-controlled group, ‘Heart of Texas’, announced a rally to take place on May 21, 2016 under the banner of “Stop Islamization of Texas.” Consequently, another Russian-controlled group publicized a competing rally to “Save Islamic Knowledge” at the same place and same time.

These findings led Senator Dianne Feinstein to remark, “I don’t think you [big tech] get it. What we are talking about is cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyberwarfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country.” What followed in her remarks is pivotal and absolutely crucial – “We are not going away, gentlemen and this is a very big deal.”

Such interferences strike at the very heart of the democratic process. Accompanied by a strategy to sow conflict and discord can be – and has been – of disastrous consequences. It is crucial for big tech companies and social media platforms to uncover any gaps in their systems that allow for such intrusion. Russia’s aims are getting clear by the day. They were not necessarily targeted towards one particular candidate, rather towards civilians who hold their own values and beliefs dear to themselves. What Russia managed to do was stir up these emotions and instill a sense of fear in the American people. These used the popularity and platform of social media to propagate these misgivings/’fake news’ and set the Left and the Right on a collision course. In short, they used the democratic process to discredit the democratic process.

This is more than a partisan issue. By the questions asked and statements made by lawmakers, one gets the sense that they understand the consequences underlined by this intrusion. The quicker these tech companies and online platforms understand and correct this, the better it’ll be, not just for their platforms, but for the entire country.

Image courtesy Gizmodo.

U.S. Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson Thinks India Is More Responsible Than China

This [week] Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson delivered a speech on India to frame his visit to the country next week. Tillerson has offered formal speeches infrequently, and has been less visible on the South Asian region than his predecessors. I’m glad the secretary will finally travel to New Delhi and has finally decided to speak about India. I just wish he had done so earlier.

Tillerson ran through the expected list of U.S.-India accomplishments. He noted the increasing convergence of defense and strategic ties, commented on the need to constantly improve the business environment (an acknowledgement that India remains challenging), and then got to his theme: the United States and India should be partners to further a “free and open Indo-Pacific” because democratic India has been rising as a responsible power, upholding the rule of law and freedom of navigation, while China has not. He contrasted the two powers explicitly and repeatedly.

Tillerson spent time on the emerging problem of what he called “predatory economics” and nontransparent infrastructure financing, urging that, “We need to collaborate with India to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity — so that it does not become a region of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics.”

This clearly referred to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and its financing for infrastructure projects that may or may not be economically viable, with unclear lending terms that may create unsustainable repayment obligations. Here, Tillerson appears to have been influenced by India’s public objections to the BRI for precisely these reasons.

South Asia is in so many ways a test case of what Beijing’s ambitious Initiative will deliver for recipient countries. The results in this region have caused alarm: Sri Lanka, unable to pay back its loan for an unviable port in the city of Hambantota, recently agreed to a debt-for-equity swap giving a Chinese state-owned enterprise majority ownership in the venture formed to operate the port. Sri Lanka can’t make good on the $6 billion loan it reportedly owes China, and the new deal is the result. No one knows what kind of bill Islamabad will eventually see for the $60-plus billion in infrastructure development to create the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

India has been trying to raise this issue on the international stage with little success. Back in May, India refused to attend the Belt and Road Forum in China. As I wrote at the time, the Indian statement on the Belt and Road Forum was forthright in its concerns:

Citing India’s commitment to physical connectivity “in an equitable and balanced manner,” the statement itemizes a series of principles for infrastructure projects that sound like a World Bank investment monitoring report:

  • “must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality”
  • “must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities”
  • “balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards”
  • “transparent assessment of project costs”
  • “skill and technology transfer to help long term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities”
  • “must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity”

India obviously believes that Belt and Road projects do not meet the above criteria.

Tillerson proposed that the United States and India, as democracies interested in a free and open Indo-Pacific, should partner to develop transparent financial mechanisms that would help build the connectivity needed to increase trade and economic prosperity. He referred to the Millennium Challenge Corporation as one model, noting the recent compact signed with Nepal. But he provided no further specific proposals to sketch out in greater detail how the United States and India should work together to provide alternative financing.

He also did not address how the United States and India would together be able to provide an alternative to meet the extensive infrastructure financing needs in the Indo-Pacific region at a time when the Donald J. Trump administration seeks to shrink the State Department and USAID budgets. Multilaterally, last week Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin declined to support an effort to expand the World Bank capital base to increase development lending. That too, won’t help “expand transparent, high-standard regional lending mechanisms,” to use Tillerson’s words from this morning.

I look forward to further articulation of the concept that the United States and India will further partner to uphold rule of law, freedom of navigation, transparent financing to increase prosperity, and responsible leadership in the Indo-Pacific. Perhaps we’ll hear more next week from Secretary Tillerson in New Delhi.

Watch the full interaction below:


Source: Alyssa Ayres, contributor at Forbes. Image courtesy Forbes. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Trump at the UN: What to watch for in address to General Assembly

New York, NY – As the UN gathers itself in New York, diplomats could be heard chatting about POTUS’ first speech to the General Assembly as a myriad of issues/conflicts seem to gather pace.

Just a refresher, on what Trump thinks about the UN:

He also remarked:

Trump is expected to give a scripted speech from a teleprompter on Tuesday. This could reminiscent of his speeches in Warsaw and Saudi Arabia from earlier this year. But tensions boiling in the Korean peninsula; the Iran nuclear deal in the balance; and, Trump’s lingering decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, this address holds heavy weight. The UN also plays a central role in mediating trade/global relations and in the protection and movement of refugees. These dynamics may also be worth looking out for.

The address is scheduled to tentatively begin at 10:15 AM EDT. You can watch it live below:

Image courtesy: The Hill. Media Courtesy: The White House.

Learning software in classrooms earns praise, causes debate

WASHINGTON — In middle school, Junior Alvarado often struggled with multiplication and earned poor grades in math, so when he started his freshman year at Washington Leadership Academy, a charter high school in the nation’s capital, he fretted that he would lag behind.

But his teachers used technology to identify his weak spots, customize a learning plan just for him and coach him through it. This past week, as Alvarado started sophomore geometry, he was more confident in his skills.

“For me personalized learning is having classes set at your level,” Alvarado, 15, said in between lessons. “They explain the problem step by step, it wouldn’t be as fast, it will be at your pace.”

As schools struggle to raise high school graduation rates and close the persistent achievement gap for minority and low-income students, many educators tout digital technology in the classroom as a way forward. But experts caution that this approach still needs more scrutiny and warn schools and parents against being overly reliant on computers.

The use of technology in schools is part of a broader concept of personalized learning that has been gaining popularity in recent years. It’s a pedagogical philosophy centered on the interests and needs of each individual child as opposed to universal standards. Other features include flexible learning environments, customized education paths and letting students have a say in what and how they want to learn.

Under the Obama administration, the Education Department poured $500 million into personalized learning programs in 68 school districts serving close to a half million students in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Large organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have also invested heavily in digital tools and other student-centered practices.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning estimates that up to 10 percent of all America’s public schools have adopted some form of personalized learning. Rhode Island plans to spend $2 million to become the first state to make instruction in every one of its schools individualized. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also embraces personalized learning as part of her broader push for school choice.

Supporters say the traditional education model, in which a teacher lectures at the blackboard and then tests all students at the same time, is obsolete and doesn’t reflect the modern world.

“The economy needs kids who are creative problem solvers, who synthesize information, formulate and express a point of view,” said Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. “That’s the model we are trying to move toward.”

At Washington Leadership Academy, educators rely on software and data to track student progress and adapt teaching to enable students to master topics at their own speed.

This past week, sophomores used special computer programs to take diagnostic tests in math and reading, and teachers then used that data to develop individual learning plans. In English class, for example, students reading below grade level would be assigned the same books or articles as their peers, but complicated vocabulary in the text would be annotated on their screen.

“The digital tool tells us: We have a problem to fix with these kids right here and we can do it right then and there; we don’t have to wait for the problem to come to us,” said Joseph Webb, founding principal at the school, which opened last year.

Webb, dressed in a green T-shirt reading “super school builder,” greeted students Wednesday with high-fives, hugs and humor. “Red boxers are not part of our uniform!” he shouted to one student, who responded by pulling up his pants.

The school serves some 200 predominantly African-American students from high-poverty and high-risk neighborhoods. Flags of prestigious universities hang from the ceiling and a “You are a leader” poster is taped to a classroom door. Based on a national assessment last year, the school ranked in the 96th percentile for improvement in math and in the 99th percentile in reading compared with schools whose students scored similarly at the beginning of the year.

It was one of 10 schools to win a $10 million grant in a national competition aimed at reinventing American high schools that is funded by Lauren Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Naia McNatt, a lively 15-year-old who hopes to become “the African-American and female Bill Gates,” remembers feeling so bored and unchallenged in fourth grade that she stopped doing homework and her grades slipped.

At the academy, “I don’t get bored ’cause I guess I am pushed so much,” said McNatt, a sophomore. “It makes you like you need to do more, you need to know more.”

In math class, McNatt quickly worked through quadratic equations on her laptop. When she finished, the system spitted out additional, more challenging problems.

Her math teacher, Britney Wray, says that in her previous school she was torn between advanced learners and those who lagged significantly. She says often she wouldn’t know if a student was failing a specific unit until she started a new one.

In comparison, the academy’s technology now gives Wray instant feedback on which students need help and where. “We like to see the problem and fix the problem immediately,” she said.

Still, most researchers say it is too early to tell if personalized learning works better than traditional teaching.

A recent study by the Rand Corporation found that personalized learning produced modest improvements: a 3 percentile increase in math and a smaller, statistically insignificant increase for reading compared with schools that used more traditional approaches. Some students also complained that collaboration with classmates suffered because everybody was working on a different task.

“I would not advise for everybody to drop what they are doing and adopt personalized learning,” said John Pane, a co-author of the report. “A more cautious approach is necessary.”

The new opportunities also pose new challenges. Pediatricians warn that too much screen time can come at the expense of face-to-face social interaction, hands-on exploration and physical activity. Some studies also have shown that students may learn better from books than from computer screens, while another found that keeping children away from computers for five days in a row improved their emotional intelligence.

Some teachers are skeptical. Marla Kilfoyle, executive director of the Badass Teachers Association, an education advocacy group, agrees that technology has its merits, but insists that no computer or software should ever replace the personal touch, motivation and inspiration teachers give their students.

“That interaction and that human element is very important when children learn,” Kilfoyle said.


Source: Maria Danilova of AP. Image courtesy: The Seattle TimesThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Unpacking Trump’s Afghanistan policy; India and Pakistan to play defining roles

Arlington, VA – President Donald Trump addressed his cabinet and various military personnel at Fort Meyer yesterday as he laid down his administration’s policies and strategies for Afghanistan. Trump campaigned on reducing military involvement abroad and vowed to end America’s “needless and disastrous” wars, especially the one in Afghanistan. Yesterday however, in a 26-minute long national address, POTUS made a u-turn and advocated for increased military in the region. This comes in the wake of a full review of the previous administration’s ‘Afghan policy’.


Afghanistan remains one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world. It checks all boxes that could lead to instability: a corrupt, weak government and a resurgent Taliban. Still, victory in Afghanistan has eluded Trump’s predecessors. Despite Bush’s launch in the wake of 9/11 and Obama’s ‘surge’ to 100,000 troops, at its highest point, the region could not be rid of conflict and instability.

Over the years, a myriad of balances have been sought, in terms of military and diplomatic forces/involvement, only to find Afghanistan at the weakest since US boots first stepped on the ground. Trump, too, offered up some of these options. He called out immediate neighbors to the east, Pakistan, seemingly offering them a ‘clean slate’ if they stopped harboring and training terrorists in havens. He even touched upon India’s continued support of stability in Afghanistan and asked for increased help in areas of economic assistance and development (India has provided $3 billion in aid to Afghanistan since 2001).

Trump outlined new ‘pillars’ on Afghan policy and detailed the administration’s goals in the region. “Dismantling al-Qaeda” and “preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan” were met with criticism of being too vague and broad. Further, steering away from “time-commitments”, leaves a sense of un-ending war, one that has already lasted 16 years without much desired impact.

America First

Trump acknowledged that his position on Afghanistan has changed since taking office. What this means for his “America First” manifesto is yet to be realized, especially with a war that seems to have no end. “My original instinct was to pull out,” he confessed as he laid out ‘three fundamental conclusions’ – all of which appeal to patriotism and nationalistic pride. An honorable, enduring outcome; wary of power vacuums; an immense security threats emanating from the region – all, potentially, resonating for his base.

If anything came at a premium during this address, it was finer details. Trump has often criticized former Presidents, especially Obama, for publicly announcing timelines and strategies. He unveiled this will no longer be the case as the administration switches from a “time-based” approach to one based on conditions-on-the-ground. “America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress,” Trump noted. “However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.”

Front lines

Currently, there are about 8,500 troops in Afghanistan. In the fight against the Taliban and Islamic State fighters, these soldiers serve as training hubs for Afghan fighters. With threats increasing on the ground, a 4,000-troop increase has been rumored to be circling around the Pentagon.

Members of the military, especially the ones well-versed with the region and the insurgency, have advocated for more troops since they can expedite training and make Afghans more capable of taking the enemy alone. “We need guardian angels,” said Lt. Col. John Sandor, deputy senior adviser for the Afghan Army’s 201st Corps, referring to security forces that would protect U.S. training teams so they can work alongside Afghan brigades.


Source: Image courtesy: The AtlanticThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

RAISE ACT; GOP slash legal immigration, issues new guidelines on green cards

Washington – President Donald Trump, along with GOP senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, announced new proposals on legal immigration yesterday. The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act prioritizes skill and merit, to ensure prospective incomers are highly-skilled, economically self-sufficient, and contributing members of the economy.

“This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first,” Trump said during an event Wednesday in the White House’s Roosevelt Room.

This announcement comes as no surprise as Trump had extensively campaigned on protecting borders and American workers from legal and illegal immigration. Although the administration in its early days has been focusing on combating illegal immigration, specifically, violent illegal immigrants, the proposed GOP plan will only affect policy specific to Green Cards.

Green Cards are permanent residency cards that allow the holder(s) to become non-citizens, who can enter/exit the country as per their will and seek employment as well. There have been reports of widespread abuse of such programs, and the new proposed plan aims to revamp the current issuance and appraisal guidelines.

Perdue and Cotton’s legislation would replace the current process for obtaining legal permanent residency, or green cards, creating a skills-based point system for employment visas. The bill would also eliminate the preference for U.S. residents’ extended and adult family members, while maintaining priority for their spouses and minor children. Overall, immigration would be slashed 41 percent in the legislation’s first year and 50 percent in its 10th, according to projection models cited by the bill’s sponsors.

Additionally, the bill would create a new points-based system for applicants seeking to become legal permanent residents, favoring those who can speak English, have high-paying job offers, can financially support themselves and offer skills that would contribute to the U.S. economy. These individuals will also be disqualified from welfare payments for a period of time, ensuring decreased dependency on state support.

Critics have indicated otherwise, noting recent immigration trends don’t appear to have hurt wages significantly. They also point towards faster economic growth because of competition spurred by an increased pool in the workforce. The bill’s supporters counter by claiming such reform will make the US more competitive as it will raise wages and create jobs.

Despite the noise, there is a long way to go until this proposal becomes law. The RAISE Act is bound to evolve as Congress deliberates and conferences on the fine points of the bill. To many people’s surprise, the much-debated and misused H-1B or H-2B visas are not targeted under such a legislation. Still, tech companies and executives have already voiced their concerns, citing uncertainty for their workers. Outside the tech community, many have a 50-50 view on such legislation. Experts believe a switch to a merit-based system is only reasonable and definitely in the US interest. However, deep cuts to the total number of legal immigrants are counter-productive. This might defeat the purpose of switching to a merit-based system and makes little sense to then limit the number of new highly-skilled workers.

Source: AP and Reuters . Image courtesy: Washington ExaminerThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

H-1B Program under the Trump Administration

A central pillar of President Donald Trump’s manifesto was increased focus on ‘buying and hiring American’. The President was extremely vocal in his criticism of foreign workers’ programs, specifically the H-1B visa program. Additionally, he also questioned the effectiveness of a lottery-based system as opposed to a meritocratic system, which would focus on keeping the brightest talents, a system which has shown great results in other advanced economies like Canada and Australia.

Advocates of the program are quick to point to the successes enjoyed by the American economy thanks to foreign worker’s coming in and taking up jobs that Americans are either not interested in or are not qualified for. The H-1B program may even be described as a staple for certain industries. Specifically, the tech industry, where highly educated workers, with most holding master’s degrees or higher, are found in abundance. These are high-quality, high-paying jobs, with average compensations of $92,317 in the first six months of 2017.

There is no denying that the H-1B visa is an essential cog in the American economy. Visa holders can be found conducting some of the most basic day-to-day work and even in the higher echelons of the decision-making chain. Today especially, many of the top CEOs and other top members of the hierarchy were previously holders of one of the foreign worker programs. Perhaps even more importantly, many such visa holders have gone on to become employers, hiring Americans in the process and creating jobs for the economy.

That being said, it is flawed to assume the H-1B program comes without faults and frauds. Many companies resort to unfair tactics to game the system and gain advantages in the lottery. Visa hoarding, the practice of applying for excessive visas for future use, is one the most central issues. Similarly, excessive reliance solely on foreign labor and off-site workers unfairly thwarts opportunities for the domestic workforce.

While there have been no new legislative guidances from Washington yet, Trump’s electoral victory certainly raised uncertainty for many corporations that may rely on the worker program, including the ones that might really need it. This year, according to USCIS data released last week, the government has received more than 300,000 H-1B petitions, almost 100,000 less compared to last year – a clear indicator of the government cracking down on fraud, pushing employers to pursue fair and legal tactics.

Lower approval rates can also be observed. In 2016, USCIS approved 87% of the applications. This year, it’s been a little more than 58%. This lower approval rate may not be necessarily be permanent however. This year’s application process has not ended yet. But the USCIS is now rigorously following up with applicants, requesting additional information and legal paperworks. Premium processing, which allows for expedited reviewing of documents, has also been suspended in order to comprehensively process applications.

It seems while the White House continues to address more pressing issues, for a lack of a better term, it has, for now, taken a more subtle approach to counter fraud in the H-1B system. Before the law changes, the existing process has been made more thorough.

Source: Polly Mosendz and Lance Lambert of Bloomberg. Image courtesy: QuartzThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Modi at G20: Highlights from Hamburg

Hamburg, Germany – Prime Minister Modi arrived in Hamburg during the late hours of July 6th for the 2017 G20 summit. This annual summit sees world leaders addressing and discussing issues pertaining to the economy, trade, markets, among others. Founded in 1999, G20 has been an important platform for the world’s emerging economies. It represents about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85% of global GDP, and over 75% of global trade. This year however, the summit was being overshadowed by the massive swaths of protesters, at least in the media. Reports put the tally of protesters around 13,000, which included black-clad anarchists as well. The police had to resort to water canons, tear gas and pepper spray to finally stop the protests.

In the wake of the summit, tensions seemed high as well. Apart from the lurking US-Russia ‘encounter’, across the pond, India too had its own set of sticking points. One very public one was China. So much so that Modi and Xi never met during the summit. They shared the room during BRICS meetings and other events, but there were no substantial face-to-face encounters that led to potential consensus.

Modi also participated in the leaders’ retreat and the sessions on Global Growth and Trade and on Sustainable Development, Climate and Energy. Although counter-terrorism and economic reforms remained at the forefront of the discussions, the summit also saw issues like free and open trade, climate change, migration, sustainable development and global stability being given great importance.

Modi also held pre-planned meetings on sidelines of the summit with Argentina, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, the UK and Vietnam,

The 2017 G20, especially in its buildup, was dominated by US-led and/or protestor-led headlines. From the much-awaited handshake between Trump and Putin (turns out handshakes can only be so exciting) to FLOTUS being ‘trapped’ in her room, many other developments slipped below the radar. Somethings to keep in mind – Modi was extremely vocal about defeating terrorism. On several occasions, the PM portrayed such violent ideologies as purveyors of destruction, who don’t have rational understandings. Modi also engaged his counter-parts and held ‘productive’ talks with many of them. More details on that to follow. Modi might not have dominated headlines, but at such events you might not want to either.

Source: NDTV. Image courtesy: Indian ExpressThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.