Even as the immigration reform proposal unveiled on Tuesday caused consternation in India over the potential fallout for IT firms, experts here advised that the policy measure should be interpreted cautiously, especially bearing in mind some of its positive aspects.
In addition to explicitly using the language of “cracking down on abusers” of H-1B and L-1 visas and targeting firms that tried to “outsource American jobs by prohibiting companies whose U.S. workforce largely consists of foreign guest-workers from obtaining additional H-1B and L visas”, the proposals, if passed into law, would also levy hefty fees on such firms.
Further, the “Gang of Eight” Senators proposing this week’s reform said they would call for recruiting of American workers prior to hiring an H-1B “non-immigrant”, and this would be monitored by authorities who would expect companies to “post a detailed job opening on the Department of Labour’s website for at least 30 calendar days before hiring an H-1B applicant to fill that position”. Employers would also be barred from recruiting or giving preference to H-1B or Optional Practical Training workers over American workers.
However, there are several bright spots in the legislation that may ameliorate the pain that India could feel from this reform — though not all of it may accrue to large Indian corporates. First, for corporations themselves, the actual H-1B visa quota has been increased from 65,000 to 110,000 annually, a significant rise that would help meet the demand for certain specialist jobs in the recovering U.S. economy.
Second, with nearly 240,000 Indian undocumented immigrants in the U.S. according to estimates by the Department of Homeland Security, the proposal for legalisation of undocumented workers could benefit both this group and the U.S. economy as these individuals start paying taxes.
According to Sheela Murthy, an immigration lawyer, the rise in the fees payable by “H-1B dependent employers” could be diverted to border protection to satisfy those who would otherwise oppose any expansion of legal immigration quotas and seek to protect American workers.
Ms. Murthy told The Hindu that since 1998 immigration reform had already placed firms depending on foreign workers in a separate category and they were subject to numerous additional fees. Among these, higher fees had been introduced in recent years for supplanting border protection revenue, a move that had similarly set off protests from representatives of Indian IT firms.
She also explained that the increased H-1B quotas could significantly relieve the pressure within the system that came from the long waiting times for visa processing related to the rapid exhaustion of the annual quota.
For example in the current period, Ms. Murthy noted, visas petitions made between April 1 and 5 would see successful applicants begin work as late as October 2013. Since 125,000 applications petitions were filed for 65,000 spots, the next earliest date for filing would be April 2014 and the subsequent earliest work date for a successful applicant would be October 2014. These extensive delays have often led to frustrations for employers who have to wait sometimes for two years to get their new recruits to start working, she added.