Thursday, 28 December 2017 16:20

New US law would clamp down further on H-1B visas


New rules around H-1B visas will make it harder for companies that are dependent on this class of visa to take foreigners to the US for work.

A bipartisan panel, the House Judiciary Committee, has agreed on measures that make life easier for some US companies that use this class of visas, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The bill, known as the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act, would classify firms that have more than 20% of employees on H-1B visas as H-1B dependent, up from the existing 15%.

This will help companies like Facebook which hires foreigners in the hundreds each year and often continues to keep them on these visas while their applications for green cards are processed.

There is as yet no indication of when the US Congress will vote on the bill.

While companies like IBM and Accenture also hire a large number of H-1B workers, they will not fall into the H-1B dependent category as these workers are hired over a number of divisions.

The bill raises the minimum salary paid to H-1B workers to US$135,000, and insists that firms hiring them prove that they tried to recruit Americans. Under existing law, outsourcing firms can avoid these rules by paying at least US$60,000 or the going wage.

Additionally, both the firm supplying the labour or its clients cannot lay off any Americans as long as the foreign worker is employed. Investigations by the US Labour Department and higher fees are other conditions prescribed in the bill.

The WSJ quoted Rentala Chandrasekhar, president of Indian IT lobby group Nasscom, as saying the measure was arbitrary and targeted a handful of companies.

He told an Indian newspaper that even though visa barriers were rising, global companies operating in the US preferred to hire Indian technology professionals.

The H-1B changes assume additional importance for India in view of the fact its local IT industry has laid off nearly 60,000 workers this year.

"Quantification of the effect of all these conditions on the Indian IT industry would be difficult, but with the root cause of offshoring — skills shortage — still remaining in the US, and with no other strong competitive option to India emerging, global companies are still coming to India to tap our talent pool," Chandrasekhar said.

Earlier this month, reports said that the spouses of H-1B workers may no longer be able to obtain work permits under a change proposed by the Trump administration.

Since Donald Trump took office nearly a year ago, the US has been clamping down on H-1B visas which are used to take in about 85,000 people a year to work in the country. A large percentage are Indians who work in the technology industry.

In October, the government issued new guidelines making it tougher for existing H-1B holders to renew their visas, specifying that they would have to go through the same process for renewal as they did to first obtain the visa.

The number of applicants for H-1B visas fell this year for the first time in four years. In April, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services received 199,000 applications, compared to 236,000 received in 2016.

Another new stricture on H-1B visas, is that computer programmers would not be presumed to be eligible for this class of visa. Rather, details of qualifications need to be supplied so that it could be determined whether the individual is fit to do the specialised task for which the visa is sought.

This guidance means that H-1B visas will go to very high-skilled and higher-paid professionals, with low- and mid-level jobs presumably to go to American workers instead.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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