H1B visa row: MEA conveys India’s concerns to US

SansadTV Bureau

Trump-US-PresidentIndia’s Ministry of External Affairs has conveyed its concerns to the US after news of Trump administration clamping down on H1B visas broke.

“India’s interests, concerns have been conveyed both to the US administration and the US Congress at senior levels,” said External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup.

MEA’s reaction came with reports that President Donald Trump is set to sign a new executive order aimed at overhauling H-1B and other work visas.

The Trump administration is said to have drafted a new order that will severely impact Indian companies, specifically IT organisations as nearly two-thirds of H1B visa applicants are Indian nationals who either work for Indian IT services firms such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro or the local operations of US firms such as Accenture, IBM and Google.

The legislation has been introduced in the US House of  Representatives which among other things calls for more than doubling the minimum salary of H-1B visa holders to USD 130,000, making it difficult for firms to use the programme to replace  American employees with foreign workers, including from India. It also eliminates the Master’s Degree exemption for dependent employers.

The High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017 introduced by California Congressman Zoe Lofgren prioritises market based allocation of visas to those companies willing to pay 200 per cent of a wage calculated by survey, eliminates the category of lowest pay, and raises the salary level at which H-1B dependent employer are exempt from non displacement and recruitment attestation requirements to greater than USD 130,000.

This is more than double of the current H-1B minimum wage of USD 60,000 which was established in 1989 and since then has remained unchanged.

“My legislation refocuses the H-1B programme to its original intent to seek out and find the best and brightest from around the world, and to supplement the US workforce with talented, highly-paid, and highly-skilled workers who help create jobs here in America, not replace them,” said Lofgren.

As per the leaked draft order, Trump would reverse former president Barack Obama’s extension of the duration of the optional practical training work visas, which allowed foreign students to stay in the US a bit longer after completion of their studies.

The draft order will not only strangulate H-1B and L1 visas, but also increases inspector raj and end employment authorisation cards to spouses on such work visas.

“I think with respect to H1Bs and other visa is part of a larger immigration reform effort that the President will continue to talk about through executive order and through working with Congress,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had told reporters.

The draft order seeks the administration to “consider ways to make the process of allocating visas more efficient and ensure that beneficiaries of the programmes are the best and the brightest.”

Within 90 days of the signing of the executive order, the Secretary of Homeland Security would have to review all regulations that allow foreign nationals to work in the US and determine which of those regulations violate the immigration laws or are not in the national interest of America.

The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialised fields.

The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year.

(With inputs from agencies)