Home Government Tech Policy Fears of changes to US H-1B visa system recede

Fears of changes to US H-1B visa system recede

Fears that the new US administration would make changes to the H-1B visa system before the application process kicks off on 1 April have receded after the White House signalled that it was not a priority.

US President Donald Trump could have used executive action — as he has done in several other cases — to make changes to the programme before the annual lottery application process begins for the 85,000 visas.

However, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last week that Trump would continue reviewing all immigration issues.

“… obviously, whether it's H-1B visas or the other one - spousal visas - other areas of student visas, I think there is a natural desire to have a full look at - a comprehensive look at that,” Spicer said.

The lobby group IEEE-USA was critical of the lack of action on H-1B visas.

"Now that he has become president, Donald Trump is singing a different tune on H-1B visas," IEEE-USA president Karen Pedersen said.

“At least 50,000 Americans will lose their jobs this year because the president has yet to fulfill the promise he made to millions who voted for him."

Among the groups most fearful of H-1B visa changes have been Indian outsourcing companies like Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, Wipro and Satyam which are estimated to take up to 85% of the visas issued for IT-related jobs.

These companies do a fair bit of work for American companies, some of it in India, and the rest by sending Indians to work in the US.

“By Trump not yet keeping his promise, American tech workers will continue to lose their jobs and their ability to take care of their families,” Pedersen said. "This is in direct contrast to what he told us all last year."

The IEEE-USA said outsourcing companies would now be free to participate in the upcoming lottery on equal terms with other businesses.

"For the past several years, these companies have collectively received around 50,000 of the 85,000 visas. Rather than using H-1B workers themselves, outsourcing companies rent their workers to third parties at below-market rates. American workers, after training many of these new employees, will lose their jobs," it said.

In the first week of March, the US said that premium processing of H-1B visas would be suspended from 3 April, or up to six months.

Premium processing allows companies that apply for a H-1B visa and want it processed fast to file an additional form (Form I-907) and pay an additional US$1225 to have the process completed in 15 days. In the normal course of things, processing an H-1B visa can take up to six months.

Some commentators have argued that changes to the H-1B visa system will not affect US companies, provided no changes were made to the L-1B visa system.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa and allows US employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in high-skilled occupations.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.