Indian techies in a spot over H-1B visa bridle

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February 1, 2017

Washington/New Delhi: Amid mounting apprehensions among Indian techies and IT giants, US President Donald Trump appears to be getting set to target the highly-coveted H-1B work visas next, with a draft executive order having been prepared for the overhaul of this programme in line with his "America First" thrust.

February 1, 2017

Washington/New Delhi: Amid mounting apprehensions among Indian techies and IT giants, US President Donald Trump appears to be getting set to target the highly-coveted H-1B work visas next, with a draft executive order having been prepared for the overhaul of this programme in line with his "America First" thrust.

India has strongly taken up with the US Administration the proposed curbs saying that the move is going to impact Indian skilled workers.

While Silicon Valley as a whole is worried, some of the changes that have separately been proposed in the US Congress in recent days could, if passed, be particularly devastating for the Indian IT giants like Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro and several others with massive US operations.

Concerned over the ramification of Trump's move on H-1B, Ministry of External Affairs said India's interests and concerns have been conveyed both to the US Administration and the US Congress at senior levels.

Indian workers constitute the majority of the H-1B visa holders, with an estimated 86 per cent of the total H-1B visas going to them. Indians dominate H-1B visa use in computer occupations and engineering works.

Speaking at an event, Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian said, "My concern is that Donald trump in last debate said, 'H-1B, whatever it is, I use it but I don't like it. I want to scrap all H-1B.' That's very worrying for export-led growth going forward."

A copy of the draft executive order for Trump's consideration, cited by Bloomberg, argues that "visa programmes for foreign workers . should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents". They should prioritise "the protection of American workers – our forgotten working people – and the jobs they hold", it says.

Separately, lawmakers have introduced three different Bills in the US Congress that would appear to specifically target Indian IT companies, which, along with Indian techies, have been the main beneficiaries of the H-1B programme for well over a decade.

One of the Bills moots more than doubling the minimum salary payable to an H-1B worker from $60,000 a year to as much as $130,000. Another wants this to be raised to at least $100,000.

Some tech media websites, closely following the changes that the Trump Administration and the US Congress may bring about, speak of the possibility of a reversal of employment authorisation cards to spouses of H-1B workers, which was recently granted by the Obama Administration after a prolonged campaign. Duration of optional practical training granted to foreign students that currently varies from one to three years could also be scaled down to the pre-Obama period.

There is no official word, however, from the White House as yet on the likely changes or the timeline for their implementation, thereby adding to the uncertainties among Indian IT companies that are gearing up for the next annual filing of H-1B petitions, set to begin on April 1. As things stand, the US hands out 85,000 H-1B visas annually, with 20,000 of them reserved for foreign students graduating from American universities.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, when asked about the H-1B plan at his briefing on Monday, confined himself to stating that H-1B and other visas are "part of a larger immigration reform effort that the President will continue to talk about through executive order and through working with the Congress".

"You've already seen a lot of action on immigration and I think whether it's that or the spousal visas or other type of visas, I think there's an overall need to look at all of these programmes. You'll see both through executive action and through comprehensive measures a way to address immigration as a whole and the visa programme," Spicer said, without offering any details.

Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic Congresswoman from California, who has introduced the latest Bill for tightening the H-1B visa regime, said, "My legislation refocuses the H-1B programme to its original intent – to seek out and find the best and brightest from around the world, and to supplement the US workforce with talented, highly-paid, and highly-skilled workers."

The various reforms being talked of, if implemented, could not only shift the way American tech giants like Microsoft, Apple and Amazon recruit talent, but also "force wholesale changes at Indian companies such as Infosys Ltd. and Wipro Ltd," Bloomberg reported, adding, "Businesses would have to try to hire American first and if they recruit foreign workers, priority would be given to the most highly paid."


Published by HT Syndication with permission from Pioneer.

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