Trump administration quells fear of any clampdown on H-1B visa extension
The Donald Trump administration is not considering any regulatory changes that would force H-1B visa holders awaiting Green Cards to leave the United States, according to a representative of the country’s immigration services.
The prospect of a clampdown on visa extensions for H-1B holders had stoked widespread fear among Indian professionals, including IT workers, in the past week with reports of over half a million people likely to be affected.Read more ↓
“Even if it were, such a change would not likely result in these H-1B visa holders having to leave the United States because employers could request extensions in one-year increments…” Jonathan Withington, chief of media relations for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) told ET in an email statement.
Withington added that USCIS was never “considering” such a policy change. However, US-based news publication McClatchy said in its report on Monday that the “administration had shifted over the last two weeks in response to the swift and harsh reaction from the business community.”
Last week, the US website had reported that a proposal from the Department of Homeland Security seeks to prevent foreigners from receiving an extension to H-1B visas while their green card applications are being processed.
No Regulatory Change Planned
“USCIS is not considering a regulatory change that would force H-1B visa holders to leave the United States by changing our interpretation of section 104(c) of AC-21, which provides for H-1B extensions beyond the 6-year limit,” Withington said.
Typically, H-1B visa holders – whose visas have been extended for a subsequent three-year term – apply for a Green Card. This application takes about two years to be approved, and the final Green Card can take many more years to come through. Each country has a quota and in the case of India and China, it can take up to 12 years to free up the quota.
Any change in the policy governing this H-1B regime would have impacted anywhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Indians living in the US and forced them to return to India, it was feared.
The response to reports of such a draconian measure was swift and widespread.
A spokesperson for the US Chamber of Commerce said last week it would be a “bad policy” to tell highly skilled individuals who are applying for permanent residency and have been working in the US for several years that they are no longer welcome. “This policy would harm American business, our economy, and the country. Further, it is inconsistent with the goals of a more merit-based immigration system,” the chamber said.
Mukesh Aghi, president of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, told ET last week that even though the reported proposals are currently just rumours, the current process of tightening H-1B is discriminatory and does have an impact on the broader relationship between India and the US.
Immigration lawyers are of the view that the latest clarification from the USCIS is a welcome move. “There is always the possibility that they will re-visit this issue,” said Poorvi Chothani, managing partner at LawQuest, an immigration law firm with offices in the US and India
“But, what has happened is very alarming and will contribute to the increasing fear factor among Indians on the H-1B visa. While some may look for alternative countries, other people who can get other opportunities within India may relocate since the future will continue to be uncertain,” she said
Ever since the Trump administration assumed office in January 2017, the H-1B visa regime has gone through a series of changes. The US department of Homeland Security recently reversed an Obama-era decision which allowed spouses of H-1B visa holders awaiting Green Cards to work in the US. It has also stated its intention to revisit the lottery system of allotting visas and define special categories where H-1B visas should be allowed.
Indian IT industry’s lobby group Nasscom has been particularly concerned about the HR 170 Bill titled “The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act” that was recently passed by the House Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a nod from the US Senate.
The Bill, classifies any company that has more 15% of its workforce working onsite as “visa dependent” and mandated an increase in the minimum salary for H-1B visa holders from $60,000 to $90,000 and forbids them from moving employees on visa from one client to another. Clients also have to certify that the visa holder is not displacing an existing employee for the entire tenure, which could be six years.
Nasscom has termed these provisions “onerous” and is taking up the issue with higher authorities in India and the US. Nasscom did not comment on this report.
The USCIS is, however, considering “a number of policy and regulatory changes to carry out the President’s Buy American, Hire American Executive Order”, said Withington. He added that it also included a “thorough review” of employment-based visa programmes.
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