United States President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to suspend foreign work visas, including the popular H-1B and L-1 categories, will deliver a massive blow to Indian skilled professionals, particularly in the information technology sector. Indians have been the largest beneficiaries of the non-immigrant visa programme, garnering more than 70% of the 85,000 given out annually. L-1 visas for intra-company transfer, H-4 for some H-1B spouses, H-2B for low skill workers and some categories of J visas for cultural and education workers are also being suspended till the end of this year. The permanent changes being proposed in the procedure for allotment of H-1B visas are bound to have a far-reaching impact on the foreign skilled workers. The present lottery system to pick 85,000 people annually from among the total number of applicants, which was three times more this year at 2.25 lakh, will be replaced by a merit-based system that will prioritise highest salaries to “get the best and the brightest” into the country. Trump, who is already in an election campaign mode, has ignored mounting opposition to the order by various business organisations, lawmakers and human rights bodies. While it is claimed that these measures could free up 5.25 lakh jobs for Americans, its impact on immigrant workers, who make up a major chunk of the country’s workforce, would be severe. The controversial order is expected to impact a large number of Indian IT professionals and several American and Indian companies who were issued H-1B visas by the US government for the fiscal year 2021, beginning October 1. It will also impact a large number of Indian IT professionals seeking renewal of their H-1B visas.
Between February and April this year, over 17 million jobs were lost in the US in industries in which employers are seeking to fill worker positions tied to H-2B non-immigrant visas. Indians once again are going to be hit the hardest from the suspension of H-4s that allow spouses of H-1B visa holders to work, a facility introduced by President Barack Obama in 2015 as an incentive for these Green Card hopefuls. However, Trump and his team of hardliners have been calling for reforms in the H-1B programme to attract the best and brightest, arguing that the present system is being abused to bring foreign workers on low wages to displace Americans, instead of attracting the really talented as originally mandated. Trump’s suspension order is short-sighted at a time when the immigrant tech labour can help America in economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The US had issued more than 9 lakh visas in 2019 in the categories Trump plans to freeze. In the past few years, the Trump administration has tightened the H-1B programme.
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