No disruption in lives of Indian H1B visa holders, clarifies US govt

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The information technology (IT) sector is relieved that there will be no disruption in projects for clients and the movement of people back to India, after the US government clarified that it didn’t intend to bring any regulatory changes to force H1B visa holders out of the country.

“It is a relief. Otherwise, lots of projects might have to be discontinued, and there would have been complete disruption in people’s lives and in companies,” said Pareekh Jain, managing director of HfS Research in India. “Imagine asking 500,000 people to move out. The situation is unthinkable.”

Indian nationals are the biggest beneficiaries of H1B visas, issued by the US to overcome the shortage of technology professionals. In the initial years, Indian IT services firms used H1B visas to send professionals on projects in the US. However, they have reduced dependence on the work visa in the past few years and, instead, opt for hiring local engineers.

Yet, there are over half-a-million engineers helping the US firms solve their technology problems, either on their rolls or on the behalf of Indian service providers.

In recent years, firms such as Apple, Google, and Facebook have increased dependence Fon the work visa to hire talented engineers from countries such as India.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) clarified that even if there were changes in the H1B visa rules, they would not hurt the existing workforce.

“Even if it were, such a change would not likely result in these H1B visa holders having to leave the United States because employers could request extensions in one-year increments under section 106(a)-(b) of AC21 instead,” Jonathan Withington, chief of media relations at the USCIS, said in a statement.  An immigration consultant, who did not wish to be named, said, “Certainly, this is a positive move by the US government to avoid disruption to its business, but IT and tech corporations from India and the US should explore how they can move some of the jobs to other locations outside the US.” The clarity has also reduced pressure on immigration experts in IT firms, who were receiving calls from workers who had applied for a green card or intended to settle in the US.  Last week, immigration experts had said it was unlikely that the American authorities would go ahead with the proposal to limit H1B applicants as the booming tech industry in the US is largely dependent on a talent pool that was not locally available.

Poorvi Chothani, founder and managing partner of LawQuest, a Mumbai-headquartered firm specialising in global immigration, said, “In any event, such a change would not have, in most cases, required H1B visa holders having to leave the United States because employers could have requested extensions in one-year increments under section 106(a)-(b) of AC21. This would have been 200 per cent more expensive because the government fees and, in some cases, attorney fees would have been required for each extension each year.” Chothani had stressed in an earlier interview with Business Standard that American companies like IBM and Google were also likely to lobby against such policies. She added that while there were other immigration options such as a combination of an EAD card and Advanced Parole, which would allow those with approved green cards to remain in America, being in valid H1B status offered greater flexibility to professionals, making it the first choice for them.

Industry watchers have also urged the IT companies to not only review their existing hiring policies in the US, but also work towards increasing the availability of local talent as the requisite skill shortage would continue for some time.  “This is a very positive update from the authorities and it reflects their sensitivity towards the software industry’s concerns,” said Raja Lahiri, partner, Grant Thornton India.

The current cap on H1B visas is 65,000 applications, and another 20,000 for those holding a Master’s degree.
Indian companies have already slashed their visa applications drastically over the past two years. TCS and Wipro saw almost a 50 per cent drop in the number of approved applications last year. They have also increased their engagement with academia to hone a better resource base for local hiring over the next couple of years.

“This is a very positive update from the authorities and it reflects their sensitivity towards the software industry’s concerns,” said Raja Lahiri, partner, Grant Thornton India LLP.

The current cap on H1B visas is 65,000 applications, and another 20,000 for those holding a Master’s degree.

Indian companies have already slashed their visa applications drastically over the past two years. TCS and Wipro saw almost a 50 per cent drop in the number of approved applications last year.

They have also increased their engagement with academia to hone a better resource base for local hiring over the next couple of years.

VISA POWER

 
— In absence of H1B extensions, employers would have spent 200% more on visa options
— Current cap on H1B visas is 65,000 applications and another 20,000 for those holding a Master’s degree
— TCS and Wipro saw over 50% drop in number of approved applications in 2016
— By 2020, the US will have 1.4 million more software development jobs than applicants to fill them
— 25,000 different US employers hired at least one high-skilled foreign national on a new H1B petition in 2016