H-1B visa norms to have ‘little impact’

The country’s premier software lobby, Nasscom, on Tuesday said the new policy memo on H-1B visas by the U.S. “should have little impact” on its member companies.

As this year’s application process for H-1B visas began Monday, the U.S Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency responsible for selecting the 85,000 H-IB beneficiaries, announced a slew of measures to crack down on companies that might be misusing the programme, including more stringent checks at sites where H-1B workers are employed.

“The clarifying guidance should have little impact on Nasscom members as this has been the adjudicatory practice for years and also as several of our member executives have noted recently, they are applying for visas for higher level professionals this year.” the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) said in a statement.

Skill shortage

Noting that member companies provide skilled talent and solutions to U.S. companies, the industry body said, “The H-1B visa system exists specifically because of the persistent shortage of highly-skilled domestic IT talent in the U.S.,” and its members will continue to provide skilled talent and solutions to fill that gap and keep U.S. companies competitive globally.

It added that the additional evidence showing that the jobs themselves are complex or specialised and require professional degrees mentioned by the memo has been the de-facto requirement for years.

USCIS also clarified that computer programmers with two-year degrees do not qualify as speciality occupation as defined by the programme. “…a petitioner must provide other evidence to establish that the particular position is one in a speciality occupation as defined,” it said.

According to December 2015 projections by the U.S. Labour Department, employment of computer and information technology occupations will grow 12% from 2014 to 2024 (faster than the average for all other occupations).

However, due to shortfalls in college graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), entering the STEM workforce, there could be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the U.S. by 2018 – with more than half of these vacancies in computer and IT-related skills. More than 60% of the Indian IT industry’s $108-billion export revenue comes from the U.S.

‘Jolt’ for IT firms

Sanjoy Sen, Doctoral Research Scholar, Aston Business School, U.K., said stricter interpretation of existing immigration requirements in the U.S. and stronger enforcement of compliance reflects how anxious the current U.S. administration is to demonstrate its commitment to restricting immigrant workers from overseas territories even before the relevant laws are enacted.

Mr. Sen said similar immigration changes were taking place in the U.K. “with immigration issues being one of the core factors that influenced the Brexit vote” and Singapore, which is relatively much smaller in terms of overall impact, is also making immigration costlier and more focused on scarce skills, albeit with clarity to restrict only those with limited or moderate level of skills “the impact of the combined pushback will certainly be a jolt to Indian IT companies in the short-term.”

In the medium-term to longer-term though the impact of this will be significantly reduced through higher recruitment in the overseas subsidiaries of the Indian IT companies. Most of them have already initiated steps for overseas recruitment drives with higher prices being charged to their clients.

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