The Trump administration issued guidelines to prevent ‘fraud and abuse’ in the H-1B visa process.

Bad news for Indian techies as US rolls out tougher H-1B visa normsFile photo: PTI
news H-1B visa Tuesday, April 04, 2017 - 13:56

The Donald Trump administration on Monday began enforcing stricter bureaucratic norms for the issuance of H-1B visas in order to prevent "fraud and abuse" in the programme.

"The H-1B visa program should help US companies recruit highly-skilled foreign nationals when there is a shortage of qualified workers in the country. Yet, too many American workers who are as qualified, willing, and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged. Protecting American workers by combating fraud in our employment-based immigration programs is a priority for USCIS," the agency said in a statement.

The Justice Department too has warned against discrimination against American workers. 

"The Justice Department will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against US workers. US workers should not be placed in a disfavored status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims,'' Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division said, according to a report in The Times of India

This came at a day, i.e. April 3, when the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) begins accepting H-1B petitions for the upcoming fiscal year begins.

The TOI report states that over 50% of the total 85,000 H-1B visas that are granted are received by Indian IT workers. 

A White House official told Reuters that President Trump may bring in more changes to the programme focusing on a crackdown on the alleged HI-B visa abuse. 

"These are important first steps to bring more accountability and transparency to the H-1B system. The administration is considering several additional options for the president to use his existing authority to ensure federal agencies more rigorously enforce all aspects of the programme," the official told the agency.

Meanwhile the chorus of those against the H-1B visa programme seems to be only growing.

Live Mint reported that several companies, including Microsoft Corp., Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc., Cognizant, Wipro and Accenture, that it got in touch with for comments did not respond. Infosys did not want to comment and "Tata Consulting Services Ltd said it has reduced use of high-skilled H-1B visas, while creating more US IT services jobs".

Explaining the new guidelines, Jing Cao and Joshua Brustein wrote in Live Mint, that new applications will undergo more scrutiny.

"The new guidelines released Friday require additional information for computer programmers applying for H-1B visas to prove the jobs are complicated and require more advanced knowledge and experience. It’s effective immediately, so it will change how companies apply for the visas in an annual lottery process that begins Monday. The changes don’t explicitly prohibit applications for a specific type of job. Instead, they bring more scrutiny to those for computer programmers doing the simplest jobs," they wrote.

Temporary suspension of special payment for H-1B visas

The USCIS in March this year announced that to clear a backlog of regular H-1B visa applications, it is suspending for six months a programme that allowed some companies to jump to the head of the queue for quicker processing of H-1B visas by paying a special fee.

This is not a suspension of the H-1B visas, but only of the "Premium Processing", which allows companies to pay $1,125 to go to the top of the line ahead of those waiting for applications to be processed, the USCIS said.

"This temporary suspension will help us to reduce overall H-1B processing times", it added. The "Premium Programme" suspension came into effect from April 3.

Under "Premium Processing", a decision is made on H-1B application within 15 days, while the regular applications take more than three months – a period that has lengthened because of the surge in "Premium Processing" applications.

A symbiotic relationship?

Just last week, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that if the US puts restrictions on H-1B visas, immigration or business outsourcing, it will not just hurt Indians but will be bad for the US too.

"We are not just talking with the US authorities (on H-1B visas and related issues), we are talking with logic and concrete statistics," Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha during the Question Hour.

"This is a mutually beneficial partnership, and we have told them (the US) that if you snap these ties, it will not hurt us alone, it will also hurt you," she said.

She said that the Indian information technology (IT) companies operating in the US are generating jobs there and contributing to the US exchequer.

"We have told them that it is not true that Indians are stealing their jobs. On the contrary, Indian companies in US are generating employment for the Americans. So far, Indian companies have given direct employment to 1.56 lakh Americans and supportive jobs to 4.11 lakh," she said.

She added that between 2011 and 2015, the Indian companies have made an investment of $2 billion, paid taxes worth $20 billion and Indian workers have contributed $7 billion to the social security scheme.

Besides, she stated, the American companies in India are earning $27.5 billion annually.

With IANS inputs 

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