The US has spoken again on the H-1B visa, which it considers is being taken advantage of by Indian companies.
The H-1B visa has caught the attention of Indians in the US as well as in India, yet again. With the US government alleging major Indian IT firms of unfair practices to bag the visas for its employees, implementation of major reforms are expected. A few weeks ago, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had made an announcement that tougher scrutiny was set to take place for upcoming H-1B visa applications. Now, after an executive order signed by the American president, Donald Trump, which includes a look into the visa, India is in talks over the expected impact of changes on the scheme.
Last week, Trump inked an executive order which included a direction to four government departments, specifying that H-1B visas must be allotted to the most-skilled or highest-paid applicants, in a change to the current lottery-like system. A transcript of the briefing that followed revealed that a few outsourcing firms send in high numbers of applications, thereby increasing their chance of successfully gaining visas. A senior official in the White House was noted as saying, “You may know their names well; the top recipients of the H-1B visa are companies like Tata, Infosys, Cognizant – they will apply for a very large number of visas, more than they get, by putting extra tickets in the lottery raffle, if you will, and then they’ll get the lion’s share of visas.”
The official estimated that 80 pc of H-1B workers are being paid less than the median wage in their fields, and particularly commented on the three Indian firms. “Those three companies are companies that have an average wage for H-1B visas between USD 60,000 and USD 65,000 (a year). By contrast, the median Silicon Valley software engineer’s wage is probably around USD 150,000,” he remarked. These practices have been dubbed as violating the concept behind the H-1B visa, which has been designed to bring in labour with specific skills. The official from the White House added, “Instead, you’re bringing in a lot of times workers who are actually less skilled and lower paid than the workers that they’re replacing.”
Meanwhile, India has not taken the issue quietly and officials have assured that they are in conversation with the US to clarify the stance. Commerce minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, last week, hinted at a backlash in case of drastic measures. She stated to the press at the sidelines of a meet in India’s capital, “It is not just that Indian companies are in the US, several big US companies are in India too. They are earning their margins, they are earning their profits, which go to the US economy. If this debate has to be expanded, it has to be expanded to include all these aspects. We shall ensure that all these factors are kept in mind.”
Indian finance minister, Arun Jaitley, in his ongoing visit to the US, has also taken up the issue of the H-1B visas with US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, while highlighting the contribution of Indian companies and professionals to the American economy.
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Concerns from India
The US State Department’s Deputy Spokesperson, Mark Toner was also asked to clarify the statements that came out of the White House briefing, to which he responded in a diplomatic tenor, “With respect to the H-1B visas, I don’t have any new information to share,” adding, “I mean, obviously, we want to see US-India, business-to-business ties remain strong. We greatly value Indian companies’ continued investment in the US economy, which also, of course, supports thousands of US jobs.”
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Many fear that Indians, who are reportedly the biggest beneficiaries of the visa, are set to be impacted with tighter norms and curbs. IT companies from India positioned in the US as well as several IT professionals working there on the visa are worried about how the new regime is going to crack down on professionals on this visa, even as the American government has issued vague statements on assurance of continuity of ties.