New Delhi: Any move to stop the facility for extension of H-1B visas by the Trump administration in the US could lead to legal challenges, according to immigration lawyers and industry experts who expect intense lobbying could help clear this contentious issue.
Apart from Indian IT companies, those who will be severely affected by any such ruling include American technology corporations such as Google and IBM, which also employ workers on H-1B visas who have applied for green cards and have been waiting for over a decade, the experts said, adding that companies may file suits against the government to protect the future of these workers, most of whom are mid-level or senior managers.
“Yes, this is clearly a downside and this not only has business but also socio-political impact if people would have to leave us and return to India,” said Raja Lahiri, a partner for transaction advisory services at Grant Thornton India.
On Tuesday, US-based news agency McClatchy reported that a proposal from the Department of Homeland Security Department (DHS) seeks to stop foreign workers from receiving extensions to their H-1B visas while their green card applications are pending.
Such a move will create a sort of “selfdeportation” of hundreds of thousands of Indian technology workers in the United States to “open up” those jobs for Americans, the report said, adding that it was part of the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order which was signed by President Trump last year.
Shivendra Singh, VP of Indian IT lobby group Nasscom, said this is the latest in the proposal to “impose more onerous restrictions on the H-B visa program” around H-1B visas both within the Trump administration and Congress.
“We believe these efforts are driven by myths and emotions, not facts and logic. Denying consideration of extensions past the first six years for H-1B visa holders with pending Green Card petitions makes no sense and would inflict harm on the US businesses and the individuals and families involved as it does nothing to reduce the STEM shortage, which is the crux of the problem.”
Forcing them to leave because government cannot adjudicate their Green Card petitions in a timely fashion makes no sense. In 2016, 13 STEM jobs were posted online for each unemployed worker in that category or roughly 3 million more jobs than the number of available, trained professionals who could potentially fill them, he added.
Over the last one year, the $150-billion Indian IT industry has felt the impact of the tightening of the visa regime in the US. While the scrutiny of applications and rejection rates have risen, several Bills have also been introduced that put new restrictions on the H-1B visa. Last month, the US also reversed an Obama era decision to allow spouses of H-1B visa holder waiting for green cards to work in the US.
The government has also stated its intention to revisit the lottery system of allotment of visas along with defining special categories where H-1B visas should be allowed.
Immigration lawyers are of the view that while measures to curtail work by spouses and an increase in visa fees may come to pass, the latest reports of stopping extensions of visa for green card applicants is unlikely to be implemented.
“We are talking about over five lakh people who work with companies such as IBM and Google, which have huge lobby budgets and the power to litigate against the US government,” said Poorvi Chotani, managing partner at Law-Quest, an immigration law firm with offices in the US and India.
Google and IBM did not reply to ET’s queries on the proposed move at the time of going to press.
She added that, typically, during the H-1B visa holder’s tenure of six years in the US an employer applies for a green card. While the application takes about two years to be approved, the final Green Card can take many years to come through since each country has a quota and in the case of India and China it can take as many as 10-12 years to free up the quota.
Visa restrictions have led to a drop of nearly 50% in visa applications from Indian outsourcers, according to Nasscom. Moreover, a Bill titled The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act, which was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and is now awaiting a nod from the US Senate is acause of another major concern.