By now, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Indian IT workers will have to bear the brunt of the Trump administration’s “America First” policy. Close on the heels of a proposal to cancel work permits of the spouses of H-1B workers comes a latest report suggesting a new set of restrictions on the H-1B selection process. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering imposing new regulations which would significantly affect how visas are procured. The DHS might revive a 2011 proposal to introduce pre-registration for employers planning to hire foreigners under the H-1B visa programme. The companies will be required to first electronically register for visas that are subject to an annual cap of 85,000 — 65,000 for foreigners coming in from abroad and 20,000 for foreigners with advanced degrees from US colleges and universities. A new set of rules could also be on the way to give priority to the most highly-paid and highly skilled workers. Since Indian IT companies have been biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visas, any curbs on the programme will certainly affect them the most. Though the proposed changes would take several months to go into effect, there are concerns over the adverse impact they can have on hiring Indian techies. This, coupled with the imminent cancellation of H-4 dependent visas, held by the spouses of H-1B workers, could crush the dreams of several Indians pursuing careers in the Land of Opportunities. The Trump administration’s plan to overhaul the H-1B programme has caused alarm in India which accounts for 70% of all H-1B workers.
The H-1B is a common visa route for highly skilled foreigners to find work in American companies and is particularly popular among technology community. It is valid for three years, and can be renewed for another three years. These curbs could not have come at a more inappropriate time for Indian IT sector which is already smarting under downward revision of revenue growth forecast. As a country of immigrants that is in need of highly skilled workers, America cannot afford to be inconsistent and whimsical on visa rules as such an approach could discourage great talent from wanting to enter the country. As part of the “Buy American, Hire American” objective of the new regime, there is a proposal to revise the definition of specialty occupation to increase focus on obtaining the best and brightest foreign nationals through the H-1B program. This would mean that during the selection of visa application, priority would be given to those with highest salaries, a move intended to prevent US employers from hiring foreigners for low-paying jobs that could easily be filled, as critics of the H-1B visa programme have argued, with locals.