THE US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering new regulations that would prevent foreign workers from getting H-1B visa extensions while their green card applications are pending.
If the proposal is passed by the US Congress, it has the potential of affecting thousands of Indian skilled professionals working in the US.
The H-1B visa issue has been a source of concern for New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley have expressed concern to their counterparts, including US President Donald Trump.
McClatchy’s bureau reported on Tuesday that the proposal, being drafted in memos shared between DHS department heads, is part of Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” initiative promised during his 2016 campaign.
“The administration is specifically looking at whether it can re-interpret the ‘may grant’ language of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act to stop making the extensions. The Act currently allows the administration to extend the H-1B visas for thousands of immigrants, predominantly Indian immigrants, beyond the allowed two-three year terms if a green card is pending,” reported the news outlet.
“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 was quoted as saying.
While officials at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is under DHS, said they couldn’t discuss “any part of the pre-decisional processes”, Jonathan Withington, chief of media relations for USCIS, was quoted as saying that “the agency is considering a number of policy and regulatory changes to carry out the President’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ Executive Order, including a thorough review of employment-based visa programmes.”
The H-1B visa is typically issued for three to six years to employers to hire a foreign worker. But H-1B holders who have begun the green card process can often renew their work visas indefinitely.
The proposed changes would have a dramatic effect, particularly on Indian visa holders, since over half of all H-1B visas have been awarded to Indian nationals, according to the Pew Research Center. Estimates suggest that over 1 million H-1B visa holders are waiting for green cards, many of whom are from India and have been waiting for over a decade.
When contacted, Indian government sources told The Indian Express, “We have been monitoring all the reports about H-1B visa changes… It is one of our high-priority areas of engagement with our interlocutors in the US. We are working with the stakeholders in the US Congress as well as the US administration on this issue.”