Recently, the Trump administration announced through the Department of Homeland Security that the administration is considering preventing the extension of H1 visas. This is being done in accordance with the promise made by Trump during his 2016 campaign of keeping American jobs for the natives. Although fulfilment of campaign promises is usually seen as a good sign in any presidency, this proposal can end up sending back 500,000 or even more skilled employees to their countries. “The idea is to create a sort of ‘self- deportation’ of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans,” said a U.S. source briefed by Homeland Security officials. According to latest reports, the proposal, which is a part of the “Buy American, Hire American” initiative from Trump’s campaign is being drafted by the leaders of Department of Homeland Security.
What are H-1 visas?
The US H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows certain graduates to enter the US and work as professionals in various fields like IT, architecture, medicine, engineering, science, accounting, and finance. As long as the visa holder is a graduate and has a Bachelors in the mentioned field, they are eligible to work for a minimum of 3 years which can be later extended for another 3 years. Unlike other visas, for this, the employer has to petition for it 6 months before the visa is granted. Employers petition for H-1B when there are shortages of highly skilled professional Americans.
Effects of the proposal
This proposal can be actually passed by the Trump administration. If we go by the rules, the proposal is meant for curbing more than just the extension of the foreign employee’s stay. The administration has full authority to amend the rules as the H-1B visas were meant to curb the skilled worker’s shortage in the US and not as a way for visa holders to get immigration status. However, completely denying the extension to all the visa holders will not only send a maximum number of skilled professionals back to their countries but it can also affect the US economy. Many of these workers are small business owners who employ US citizens and help the growth of the country’s economy. Sending them back can result in a downfall which is yet to be analyzed. Some of these previous visa holders are now heading the biggest tech giants in the world. Which is the reason why the administrations before Trump worked in the favor of the visa to get more talent into the country?
Ever since the news of possible changes and additional regulations in the H-1B visa segment came up after a US-based news agency McClatchey’s DC Bureau reported it last month, there are many parties that have voiced their opposition to the same. One comes from the US Chamber of Commerce which said, “It would tremendously be a bad policy to tell highly skilled individuals who are applying for permanent residency and have been working in the US for several years that they are no longer welcome. This policy would harm American business, our economy, and the country,” the chamber said in a statement. “Further, it is inconsistent with the goals of a more merit-based immigration system.” Meanwhile, even certain advocacy groups and lawmakers have criticized the plan that could easily self-deport 500,000 Indian Americans and said that such a plan will drain America of talent.
The voice of concern also comes from several congressmen holding office most of whom are of Indian origin. “Imposing these draconian restrictions on H-1B visa holders will tear families apart, drain our society of talent and expertise, and damage our relationship with an important partner, India.” Said Tulsi Gabbard, an influential Democratic Congresswoman. “The proposal could lead to the deportation of an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 Indian H-1B visa holders, many of whom are small business owners and job creators who are helping to build and strengthen our US economy. This brain drain will stifle innovation and decrease our ability to compete in the global 21st-century economy,” Gabbard said.
Another Indian-origin Congressman, Raja Krishnamoorthi put a very important point across. He said while it is important to improve and increase domestic employment, such a proposal can lead to kneecapping of American economy and discouraging companies from making bigger investments in the country. “I hope the administration immediately rejects the proposal,” he said.
No current distress among foreign techies
Currently, many foreign nationals working on the H-1B visa are not worried about the proposal. Many feel that amendment of the H-1B visa law and introducing new regulations is being done to strengthen the process and is not against visa holders as of now. They feel the administration is making good on their campaign promise in 2016 of curbing misuse of H-1B visas. Over the years, IT industry has seen the most number of H-1B visa holders and those who have lived for more than 6 years later go on to apply for Green card, eventually landing a US citizenship. As no big change is made overnight, foreign nationals in the US are currently optimistic about the administration considering how the end proposal can affect the status of current visa holders and their families. This stand on the news of the proposal that has shaken people in good position is a sharp contrast to how the nationals felt once Trump won the election back in 2016. An engineer who has been working on H-1B visa with a hardware giant for over eight years now, says, “There are no H-1B woes really. We (Indian techies) are all at a stage where we don’t want to keep worrying about this. We will see what to do if at all an order gets passed or this proposal becomes law.” Another New York-based executive working in a US-based financial firm mentions “Nothing related to H1B is being prominently reported and they are looking at immigration issues at a holistic level. Sometimes the H1B issues are seen by the liberals as a tool for filling technology requirements, while for the right wing conservation side, it is seen as something that is being misused by foreigners, specifically Indians.” Some also feel the step is being taken considering the Indian IT industry that misuses the visa regulation to get cheap labor working in the US, something the industry still denies.
The USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) can approve more than 330,000 visas each year and this year alone validated more than 680,000 by April 2017. A big share of these visas goes to the Indians which makes this proposal stressful for the techies living in the US. 82% of the H-1B visas are given to Indians which is why this proposal is more likely to affect the whole foreign Indian professionals living in the US. A total of 2,237,478 H1B visas from 2007-2017 were given to Indians alone and 302,293 of those were in 2017. The effects of such changes on the foreign nationals are something to be established once and if the proposal goes to the floor for approval.