Blow to Indians as Trump Suspends American H1-B, J1, L1 and H4 Visas Until Dec

The US administration under President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Tuesday that suspends issuance of fresh H1B and other work visas until the end of the year.

trump suspends h1b visas
Representational Photo: Courtesy FT

The order is part of an immigration policy overhaul that also seeks to put a temporary freeze on the lottery system that grants ‘Green Cards’ or citizenships to immigrants.  “We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens”, said Trump while announcing the decree.

The affected visas will be H1B – the most popular form of work visa issued to skilled professionals to come and work in the US, the H4 visa (their dependents) and the L1 visa (for employees moving to the US in an intra-company transfer.) The order will not affect existing H1B visa holders. The Optional Practical Training (OPT) that most foreign students are eligible for after they graduate in the US also remains unaffected.

This move will bar thousands of migrant workers from working in the US for the remainder of the year. The H1-B visa is currently offered to almost 90K skilled workers from around the world every year. However, the news will particularly affect Indians hopeful of working in the US as upto 70% of H1B visas are issued to skilled professionals from India. The H1-B visa was always under the radar of the Trump administration and has often found a mention alongside his views on checking mass  immigration into the country.

Trump’s order is meant to free up thousands of jobs for the local Americans, in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic as unemployment in the US has touched record high with upto 50 million reportedly out of jobs.  “His goal here is to ensure that businesses, as they rehire coming out of the coronavirus economic hit, that they have to hire American workers first,” said Ken Cuccinelli, a US official at the US Department of Homeland Security. The new rules will require that companies who ask for H-1B visa workers must show that the foreign workers will not bump Americans out of jobs — even when the Americans are employed by other companies. “The president wants to move toward a more merit-based immigration system,” said Cuccinelli. “You’ve heard him talk about ‘the best and the brightest,’ but he wants to do that in a way that protects American workers.”

However, Trump’s order has attracted criticism from some of the top American tech executives.

Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, an immigrant himself, has weighed in.

The American executives are expectedly miffed.  Hiring skilled foreign immigrants, especially within the tech sector, at wages lower than their American counterparts is a popular route for tech companies who import them in droves. However, the local Americans are not exactly a fan of the system as it’s led to thousands of high-skilled jobs going to immigrants, so much so that most of the top tech companies in the US now are headed by an Indian.   Back in 2017, American tech giant Oracle was sued for “hiring too many Indians.”

“U.S. executives know that visa workers are not immigrants. The visa workers have almost no legal rights in the United States and will rationally work long hours for many years in the hope of getting paid with a green card that allows them to escape India or China.”, said American conservative website Breitbart on the development. “In contrast, American professionals are a labor headache for CEOs, C-suite executives, and hiring managers. They argue with their managers, demand time off on the weekend, quit for other opportunities, go on local TV when their department is laid off, testify in court when low-quality products cause damage, and they also try to develop innovative products.”, it added.

On the other hand, Indian tech consultancy companies like Infosys, TCS, Oracle, HCL and Wipro depend on offshore workers and projects for a significant chunk of their revenue. Trump’s visa rule is likely to hit not only the hopes of the employees with American dreams, but also the bottomlines of the Indian IT companies already smarting under the aftereffects of the pandemic.