US has a skill gap, especially in the STEM fields, and any such changes may lead to a shortage of skilled professionals in the country, says Nasscom.

Huge skill gap in US H-1B visa proposal will hurt American economy too NasscomOfficial White House Photo by D Myles Cullen.
news IT Sector Thursday, January 04, 2018 - 14:47

Criticising a proposal by the Donald Trump administration that seeks to stop extension of H-1B visas to those waiting for a green card or permanent residency, India's IT industry apex body Nasscom has said that the move, if passed, will hurt the American economy as well.

According to Nasscom, US has a skill gap, especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, and any such changes may lead to a shortage of skilled professionals in the country.

"The US has a big skill gap. Out of the 2 million vacant STEM jobs, 1 million are in IT related areas. All these measures, mostly political and emotive, aren't changing the skills gap and will hurt the American economy. All these factors have to be kept in mind by the US administration," Nasscom President R Chandrasekhar told The Times of India.

The H-1B is a common visa route for skilled foreigners to find work at companies in the US. The H-1B visa programme is popular among the Indian IT industry workforce with India alone reportedly accounting for nearly 70% of all H-1B workers.

Existing laws in the US allow a professional with an H-1B visa to stay in the country for three years, which can be extended by another three years. For anyone who has a green card application pending, their H-1B visa gets extended indefinitely till the process is completed, a Business Today report explains.

However, under the new proposal, the H-1B visa holder will have to move out of the US till their application for permanent residency is completed.

This could stop hundreds of foreign workers from keeping their H-1B visas while their green card applications are pending.

"The idea is to create a sort of 'self-deportation' of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans," a US source briefed by Homeland Security officials told news agency McClatchy's DC Bureau.

While it may take time for such a regulation to come into force, even after it gets passed, the proposal can be deemed unfair to those who've waited several years for a green card.

Alka Dhingra, general manager for IT staffing at TeamLease Services, told Quartz, "It will have a big impact on the current workforce as there are thousands of applicants who have spent almost a decade in the US waiting for green card processing. In case they need to return to India or their home countries, they need to start again. People whose green card is in process can go back to the US once it is approved but that will take its own time and meanwhile they need to move, settle, and resettle again in terms of work and personal life both."

"Buy American, Hire American"

US President Donald Trump had in 2016 signed an executive order to "Buy American, Hire American", after which the H-1B visa process became more stringent.

However, experts have warned that such a move could backfire.

Just after Trump signed the executive order, Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law expert called it "an overly simple solution to a complex problem".

"Immigrants account for a disproportionately large share of start-ups and patents in the United States, and for every H-1B position requested, U.S. tech companies increase their employment by five workers. Cutting the H-1B program pushes talented immigrants to look elsewhere, and this administration risks hurting the U.S. economy by accelerating the existing problem of off-shoring work and talent to other countries," he wrote.

Since last year, the country has also been enforcing stricter bureaucratic norms for the issuance of H-1B visas in order to prevent "fraud and abuse" in the programme.

It also intends to do away with the Obama-era rule that allows the spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the country.

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