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H1-B visas among those suspended till year end

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Tech workers in India hoping to move to the U.S. for work, suffered a setback on Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump signing an executive order (EO) pausing new H-1B visas effective June 24 through the end of the year. H4 visas (H-1B dependents), L visas (intra-company transfers), as well as H-2B (non-agricultural workers) and J visas will be on pause through the year end.

Mr. Trump’s order was issued ostensibly to protect American jobs during the ongoing pandemic but it has been criticised by the tech industry as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle as damaging to the U.S. economy.

Watch | Who will be affected by the new visa order?
 

Monday’s order also extended to year-end, the April 22 order suspending new immigrant visas issued to those outside the U.S. The order does not apply to existing green card holders, spouses and children of U.S. citizens, those already in the U.S. on temporary work visas (such as H-1Bs) or their derivative visas.

 Also exempt are those outside the U.S. who have valid non-immigrant visas issued before June 24. Individuals may still apply from within the U.S. for H-1B transfers, but if these are denied for any reason, such individuals could fall out of status.

There will be an exemption for professors and scholars on J visas as well as for some food industry workers needing an H-2B visa, according to senior administration officials, who briefed reporters on a call on Monday (U.S. time). Those working on COVID-19 research and treatment as well as those whose services are considered necessary for the economic recovery of the U.S. will be exempt from the restrictions. The proclamation is not retroactive, i.e., does not apply to previously issued visas, as per a statement from the State Department spokesperson.

Also read: Analysis | Trump has taken his administration’s war on immigration to the next level

Along with the EO, Mr. Trump had also asked the administration for the H-1B system to be changed, so that it prioritised workers with higher salaries, according to officials. He had also directed the administration to end the diversity visa lottery permanently and for employer loopholes to be closed where jobs are given to lower-waged foreign workers, officials said.

Tech giants slam visa curbs

The order will impact both IT firms like TCS, Cognizant and Infosys as well as big tech companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, who use the H-1B programme for their staffing needs. Each year, the U.S. issues 85,000 new H-1Bs, most of which go to Indians.

Also read: Trump admin urges U.S. court not to block work permits to spouses of H1B visa-holders

Those whose H-1B visas become operational in the next U.S. fiscal year — October 1, 2020 — will be severely impacted. The date is just about a month before the U.S. elections — Mr. Trump has been selling his policies to curb legal migration as efforts to save American jobs and he is expected to use Monday’s executive order as a campaigning point with his base. 

“While the May [unemployment] rate of 13.3% reflects a marked decline from April, millions of Americans remain out of work,” the presidential proclamation on Monday said. The order’s impact would save 5,25,000 American jobs by the end of this year, a senior administration official told reporters.

Nevertheless, unemployment rates in ‘computer occupations’ was just 2.5% in May 2020, according to Bureau of Labour Statistics analysed by the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan research organisation.

‘Misguided move’

Responding to the decision, NASSCOM, India’s IT industry body said Mr. Trump’s new order could also mean the offshoring of jobs that cannot be filled locally due to restrictions. The NASSCOM statement criticised the move as “misguided and harmful to the U.S. economy”. Without highly skilled immigrants, “the economic pain would worsen, industry would slow, and the timeline for a treatment and cure of COVID-19 would lengthen,” it said, asking the U.S. administration to restrict its policy to 90 days.

Some tech leaders in the U.S. were also dismayed by the EO. Tesla Founder and former Trump adviser Elon Musk said the skillsets brought by visa holders are net job creators. “Visa reform makes sense, but this is too broad,” he tweeted.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who immigrated to the U.S. from India, underscored the importance of immigration in Google’s journey.

“Immigration has contributed immensely to America’s economic success, making it a global leader in tech, and also Google the company it is today. Disappointed by today’s proclamation — we’ll continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all,” Mr. Pichai tweeted.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce which had written to Mr Trump on June 12, asking him to reconsider his order called it “severe.”

“Today’s proclamation is a severe and sweeping attempt to restrict legal immigration. Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back,” the Chamber’s CEO, Thomas Donohue said.

Republican Senator from South Carolina and Trump supporter Lindsey Graham also criticised the visa suspension. “Legal immigration is a positive for the American economy, and visa programs allowing American companies to secure qualified, legal labour throughout the world have benefited economic growth in the United States,” he tweeted.

“The H-1B programme in particular plays a crucial role in addressing our dangerous shortage of health care professionals while also providing other key sectors of our economy with talent from around the world to not only fill jobs, but create new ones,” Indian-American Congressman from Illinois, Raja Krishnamoorthi said. The Congressman said he was “ deeply disappointed” by the “misguided” order.

Mukesh Aghi, who heads the US India Strategic Partnership Forum said the order “has the potential to do permanent damage to the U.S.'s reputation of attracting the best and the brightest. 

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Printable version | Oct 31, 2020 7:03:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/reform-h-1b-visa-system-move-towards-merit-based-immigration-trump-to-officials/article31895379.ece

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