US President Donald Trump's poll promise to "Buy American, Hire American" may force lakhs of Indian techies out of the United States. Trump administrations new proposal to not extend H-1B visa of those waiting for permanent residency or green card is likely to affect more than 5 lakh Indians working in the US.
The proposal, circulated in the form of internal memo by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), seeks to end the provision of allowing extensions to H-1B visa holders whose applications for green card had been accepted. US President Donald Trump had earlier promised to protect jobs for American workers.
Under the existing laws in the US, an outside worker having an H-1B visa can remain in the US for up to six years. It is initially for three years but can be extended for additional three years. A person having a pending permanent residency application gets indefinite extension of the H-1B visa until the applicant's Green Card processing is completed.
Under the new proposal, a foreign worker will have to exit United States until the processing of Green Card application is complete. The move could directly stop hundreds of thousands of foreign workers from keeping their H-1B visas while their green card applications are pending.
The new regulations are aimed at preventing the extension of H-1B visas, predominantly used by Indian IT professionals.
The proposal which is being shared between the Department of Homeland Security Department (DHS) heads is part of Trump's "Buy American, Hire American" initiative promised during the 2016 campaign, US-based news agency McClatchy's DC Bureau reported.
It aims to impose new restrictions to prevent abuse and misuse of H-1B visas, besides ending the provision of granting extension for those who already have a green card.
"The act currently allows the administration to extend the H-1B visas for thousands of immigrants, predominantly Indian immigrants, beyond the allowed two three-year terms if a green card is pending," the report said.
"The idea is to create a sort of 'self- deportation' of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans," it said, quoting a source briefed by Homeland Security officials.
"The agency is considering a number of policy and regulatory changes to carry out the President's Buy American, Hire American Executive Order, including a thorough review of employment-based visa programmes," said Jonathan Withington, chief of media relations for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occuptions that require theoretical or technical expertise.
It is typically issued for three to six years to employers to hire a foreign worker. But H-1B holders who have begun the green card process can often renew their work visas indefinitely.
The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
The proposed changes would have a dramatic effect particularly on Indian visa holders considering more than half of all H-1B visas have been awarded to Indian nationals, the report said, quoting the Pew Research Center report.
"This would be a major catastrophic development as many people have been waiting in line for green cards for over a decade, have US citizen children, own a home," said Leon Fresco, who served as a deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department in the Obama administration who now represent H-1B workers.
Fresco estimates more than 1 million H1-B visa holders in the country are waiting for green cards, many of whom are from India and have been waiting for more than a decade.
Software body Nasscom has cautioned against the proposed US Bill - Protect and Grow American Jobs. Nasscom said it is riddled with "onerous conditions" and places "unprecedented obligations" on both Indian IT companies and clients using H-1B visas.
Nasscom said it has flagged its concerns around visa-related issues in the US with the Senators, Congressmen and the administration, and will engage further in a dialogue over the next few weeks over the proposed legislation.
The bill proposes new restrictions to prevent abuse and misuse of H-1B visas. It tightens the definition of visa-dependent companies, and imposes fresh restrictions in terms of minimum salary and movement of talent.
Apart from prescribing higher minimum wages, the Bill places the onus on clients that they will certify that the visa holder is not displacing an existing employee for a tenure of 5-6 years.
"That formulation has conditions which are extremely onerous and makes it very difficult for people to not just get the visa but also on how they can be used," R Chandrashekhar, President, National Association for Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) said.
The Bill has been passed by the House Judiciary Committee and is now headed for the US Senate.
"We do not know the exact timeline but we have been told it will come up early 2018," he said.
Chandrashekhar said another "extreme concern" is that "in the name of protecting American jobs, this has been applied only to the so called visa-dependent companies that translates to Indian companies".
"There is no doubt we have been seeing an increasingly negative environment and this is a part of the protectionist, anti-globalisation trend," he said referring to a slew of measures taken by the US in the recent past, including increased visa scrutiny, premium visa processing being put on hold for a few months etc.
Chandrashekhar also pointed out that the use of visas by Indian IT firms has fallen by 50 per cent in the last two years and that the number now stands below 10,000.
"It is below 10,000, which is a minuscule fraction of 85,000 visas (H-1B visas) issued every year... how such onerous restrictions on 12-15 per cent of the visas that are being issued protect American workers, certainly defies logic," he said.
Chandrashekhar explained that the Bill proposes to raise the minimum wage substantially to about USD 100,000 if the company has to be exempted from the labour certification requirements.
Also, the client deploying the H-1B visa worker will have to certify that no American worker will be displaced for the 5-6 year period.
Further, the software services provider will have to notify the US authorities if the client has displaced a worker, an obligation that is unprecedented, he said.
Chandrashekhar added that many of these changes were "emotive and political" rather than being based on "economic arguments".
He said that Nasscom has shared its concerns with both Indian and the US governments.
"...We will probably be having further interaction in next few months. In next couple of months, we expect to have interactions once again with the US authorities," he added.
with PTI inputs