H-1B back on table for India-US talks


OCTOBER 4, 2019

India has put the H-1B temporary visa programme for high-skilled professionals firmly back on the table for discussions with the United States after pussyfooting around it as the Trump administration put an unprecedented squeeze on it and its chief beneficiaries, Indian companies and IT professionals.

Jaishankar wrote in a tweet, that they discussed “promoting lawful travel, ensuring flow of talent and protecting the interests of students”. (File photo)

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar raised it in his meeting with the acting secretary of homeland security, Kevin McAleenan at their meeting earlier in the week, along with other issues of legal immigrations and the welfare of the hundreds of thousands of Indian students enrolled in US colleges.

Jaishankar wrote in a tweet, that they discussed “promoting lawful travel, ensuring flow of talent and protecting the interests of students”.

No further details were shared by either side, but people familiar with the talks said the phrase “ensuring flow of talent” referred to the H-1B visa programme under which the US grants a total of 85,000 three-year visas to foreign professionals required by US companies to meet a shortfall in local availability.

An estimated 70% of these visas go to Indians, hired by both US behemoths such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google and smaller companies and US subsidiaries of Indian IT companies Infosys, TCS, Wipro and Mahindra.

The Trump administration has put the programme under unprecedented scrutiny under pressure from immigration hardliners who claim, without proof, there is no shortage of local talents and that the visas were being used to displace Americans workers with cheaper alternatives from abroad, mainly Indians.

President Donald Trump has been personally ambivalent on this issue, having used the programme himself for his businesses, as he has said. But he has sided with the hawks, such as senior adviser Stephen Miller, and under his “Buy American, Hire American” policy the department of homeland security has curtailed the programme through a string of executive decisions without touching the congressionally-mandated annual intake.

Denial rates for new H-1B petitions are reaching new highs, according to data made available by the US Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS), which is run by the department of homeland security, and so have the rates of rejection for extensions. And experts have said Indians were “more likely” to be denied than others, as been borne out by anecdotal accounts Indians leaving overnight for India at being denied an extension.

Indian companies downsized their requirements and ramped up local hirings to meet the threat and the Indian government was seen unwilling to put up a fight as it went on the back-foot to deal with a sudden sharpening of trade differences and manage a a relationship beset with more uncertainties than ever before.

H-1B slipped off the talking points, until now.

The external affairs minister also focused on the welfare of Indian students, an issue that received a lot of attention some months ago when hundreds of them were left facing deportation for enrolling into a fake university launched by the department of homeland security to catch what they described as “pay-to-stay” scam, foreigners extending their US stay by signing up for fraud education degrees.

The people familiar with Jaishankar’s discussions said no specific cases were discussed. But the University of Farmington case had annoyed Indian officials, who argued to US officials this was a case of entrapment, luring people to break the law and then punish them for it.

Courtesy/Source: Hindustan Times