There could be some bad news in the offing for Indian software engineers looking to land a job in the US. The Trump administration, already well-known for its hard-line anti-immigration stance, recently proposed to further tweak rules for the H-1B visas. And that's a worrying development for Indians, who typically garner more than 60% of these visas.
The US Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) proposal to introduce electronic registration for H-1B visa petitions for the filing season for the 2020 fiscal, which kicks off on April 1, 2019 along with a reverse selection process to include US master's or advanced degree holders within the 65,000-cap will tighten movement for Indian IT services sector, The Economic Times reported.
The H1B visa is a popular non-immigrant work visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations, and American tech companies have long depended on it to hire highly-skilled employees from countries like India and China.
According to NASSCOM , the Indian IT services sector - a major beneficiary of the H-1B visas - sees this as a fresh concern, adding that it may lead to "uncertainties" and could put US jobs at risk. However, the software body made it clear in a statement yesterday that it will carefully review the 139-page proposal and evaluate its implications for US companies and the economy before forming an opinion.
"That said, there is not much time between now and when the next H-1B lottery season opens in April 2019. Companies have already begun assessing their needs and planning their submissions for next year, so we are concerned about the uncertainties that could arise as the government seeks to implement another major change in the H-1B process during that timeframe," said NASSCOM.
NASSCOM added that its members are already investing billions of dollars in the US, employing more than 1.5 lakh people, and spending millions of dollars on upskilling programmes. "It is important that they and others continue to have access to the necessary talent," it explained.
The proposed rules not only mandate electronic pre-registration with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for the annual visa lottery but also allow the immigration agency to reverse the order by which it selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B cap. The idea reportedly is to introduce a more meritorious selection of beneficiaries by offering US master's degree holders two chances to get lucky.
"A big change that is going to affect direct hires from India is going to be the reverse-selection process whereby all online registrants will be part of the lottery towards the initial 65,000 cap [the general quota for H-1B visas]. Any individual with advanced US degree who is not selected in this lottery will be eligible for the additional 20,000 visas reserved for individuals with advanced US degrees. This means that the odds are against the number of visas that would be granted to applicants from India without this advanced education," Poorvi Chothani, managing partner, LawQuest, an immigration law firm, told the daily.
According to the DHS, the proposed process would result in an estimated increase of up to 16% (or 5,340 workers) in the number of selected H-1B beneficiaries with a master's degree or higher from a US institution of higher education. But companies reportedly expect this to be a fresh hindrance to deployment of employees for projects in the US.
"This is going to be one more point of friction. But it is what it is. We need to learn to live with it. There is nothing much that we can do," Rostow Ravanan, chief executive officer, Mindtree, told the daily.
He added that this was an effort by the US administration to "promote local employment" and "reduce number of visas to the extent these changes can be made administratively" since they have realised anything that requires legislative approval will take time. His company, like many other software services exporters, has already changed its business models in line with US President Donald Trump's Buy American and Hire American executive order.
The latest DHS proposal has already been approved by the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) unit of the US president's executive office. The public comments on the proposed rule may be submitted starting December 3, when the proposed rule publishes in the Federal Register, and must be received on or before January 2.
This change is expected to result in significant savings of administrative costs as well as time and paperwork for the sponsoring companies - i.e. those hiring foreign employees. Currently, all petitions have to be filed upfront in April, along with all supporting evidence, just for entry into the lottery. In other words, the new rule will spare companies the effort of preparing a complete petition for applicants that don't get lucky in the visa lottery. It will also allow USCIS to manage the intake and selection process for H-1B applications more efficiently. For the 2018-19 season, the agency received 1.9 lakh applications but less than half would be accepted.
But if the proposal is passed, the transition period may bring its own share of woes. "At present I am concerned that that they may not have a robust programme in place for the upcoming H-1B filing season and this might lead to delays and or confusion," said Chothani.
With PTI inputs
Edited by Sushmita Agarwal