Wednesday, 22 November 2017 10:49

US Government clamps down further on H-1B visas


The US Government has taken further steps to tighten the rules for foreign H-1B visa holders, reportedly removing the ability for their spouses to obtain work permits.

Additionally, a Congressional panel has approved legislation to raise the minimum salary paid to an H-1B visa holder from US$60,000 to US$90,000, making it more difficult for the individual to be hired.

The law, known as the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act (HR 170), includes a number of other restrictions on H-1B visa holders. It was passed by the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday.

Reacting to the passage of the measure, R Chandrashekhar, president of Indian IT lobby group the National Association of Software and Services Companies, said the bill, if passed by Congress, would harm US businesses and stifle innovation.

"Unfortunately, this legislation is being driven by myths, not reality. US Government data show very significant shortages of high skill talent around the country. The data show that the high skill visa programmes are not a major cause of US unemployment, and IT specialists working on temporary visas are not cheap labour," he said.

Spouses and children of foreign H-1B visa holders are issued H4 visas. A rule brought in during the Obama presidency in 2015 made it possible for spouses, mostly women, to obtain work permits.

Prior to this, these foreigners were not allowed to work or obtain a Social Security number. Since the rule was modified, a total of 41,526 people were given work permits, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Since the election of Donald Trump a year ago, the US has been clamping down on H-1B visas which are used to bring in about 85,000 people a year to work in the US. Many of them are Indians who work in the technology industry.

Last month, 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.

These rules also apply to the L-1B visa which allows a worker to stay in the US for between five and seven years. There is no minimum wage requirement and dependants of an L-1B visa holder can work right away.

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 stricture on H-1B visas, is that computer programmers would not be presumed to be eligible for an H-1B 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

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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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