Visa curbs haunt Indians

Proposal to cancel work permits of H-4 visa-holders could deter many high-skilled immigrants from staying in the US.

AuthorPublished: 20th Dec 2017  12:05 amUpdated: 20th Dec 2017  12:17 am

The widespread fears over the impact of the Trump administration’s protectionist ‘America First’ policy may well come true. The latest proposal to cancel the work permits of H-4 visa-holders, the spouses of H-1B workers, has come as a rude shock to countless Indians pursuing their dreams in the Land of Opportunities. In tune with his campaign promise of visa reforms to protect the interests of local Americans, Trump is planning to revoke the Obama-era rule that extends work authorisation to the spouses of H-1B visa-holders. If the move goes through, it will adversely impact the careers of the spouses of countless Indian H-1B workers and their families. Since 2015, the spouses of H-1B visa-holders awaiting green cards are eligible to work in the US on H-4 dependent visas. In 2016, more than 41,000 H-4 visa holders were issued work authorisation documents. This year till June more than 36,000 H4 visa-holders were issued work authorisation. Indians receive a major chunk of H-1B visas and typically account for over 86% of the visas issued for technology firms every year. The green card application procedures can stretch over 12 years. In a recent regulation, the Department of Homeland Security said that changes were being made in the light of Trump’s ‘Buy American and Hire American’ order issued earlier this year. This could potentially deter a number of high-skilled immigrants from staying in the US if their spouses cannot find work easily. And, over 90% of all H-4 visa-holders are women.

It must be noted that thousands of Indians, who started businesses in the US, have been contributing significantly to the economy. The restrictive visa regulations would push the future plans of such hardworking individuals into jeopardy. More restrictions appear to be on the way as there are plans to revise the definition of what occupations are eligible for the programme to increase focus on obtaining the ‘best and brightest foreign nationals.’ 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 the Indian IT sector, which is already smarting under the 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.