External Affairs Minister Subrahmaniam Jaishankar said in Parliament on Thursday that he had raised the issue of the changes in the H-1B visa programme that are impacting Indian professionals twice with the United States administration in the past few months.
Replying to questions in the Rajya Sabha on H-1B visa denials as a result of changes by the Trump administration, Mr. Jaishankar said that according to official statistics, 27,707 of 1,16,031 new H-1B petitions, or 23.9%, were denied in the fiscal year 2019.
“These issues were raised by External Affairs Minister with his U.S. counterpart [Secretary of State Michael Pompeo] in New Delhi in June 2019 and with the U.S. interlocutors in Washington D.C. in September/October 2019. In our engagements, we have emphasised that [H-1B professional visa programme] has been a mutually-beneficial partnership, which should be nurtured,” he said.
The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows American companies to employ foreign workers in speciality jobs that need technical expertise not available in the U.S. The visa programme allowed technology and IT-based companies to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from India, which accounted for nearly 70% of all such visa issuance, and also for about 93% of H-4 visas meant for the spouses of H-1B holders up to 2017.
However, according to a written reply submitted by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the process has become “more complex” now, and changes brought about by the Trump administration, which has taken a tough position on immigration and prioritised keeping U.S. jobs for its citizens, have caused longer delays in processing visas. “These changes have impacted the processing of H-1B petitions in general, entailing a higher level of scrutiny.” The Trump administration has also said in court filings that it wishes to revoke H-4 visas permanently, although it has offered to “review” the decision after a court order stayed it.
“The number of visas for which [Indian IT companies] have applied has come down in the last few years. Denial rates have also gone up. But, denial rates have not gone up only for the Indian companies; they have gone up for all companies,” Mr. Jaishankar said in answer to a question.
According to figures provided to Parliament, the MEA said that the number of visas under the programme had increased from 1,19,952 in 2015 to 1,29,097 in 2017, but have subsequently fallen to 1,25,528 in 2018.
Mr. Jaishankar said that while the government recognised that “issuing visas is the sovereign prerogative” of any state, it had business and social interests “at stake”. “We are constantly in touch with the American system, the American government and members of Congress to persuade them and to convince them that tapping the Indian talent pool is to our mutual benefit, In that, I think, we have been successful in large measure”, he added.