India-USA : H1B Visa Changes

What is H1B visa?
  • The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows companies to employ foreigners for a period of up to six years. This visa is aimed at helping companies employ foreigners in positions for which they have been unable to find American employees.
  • The minimum salary for an employee holding the H1B visa is set at $60,000 per year. H1B visa holders are allowed to apply for permanent residency in the US as well as buy or sell property in the country.
  • Every year, the US government grants 65,000 H1B visas, while an additional 20,000 are given to foreign students who have completed their masters course from a US university.
  • In accordance with the Free Trade Agreements that the US has with Singapore and Chile, they get additional 5,400 and 1,400 visas under the H-1B1 category, respectively.
What is the issue?
  • New US leadership under Trump is working on changes in H-1B and other guest worker visa programmes as part of President Trump’s immigration reforms.
  • New restrictions are proposed for H-1B visa holders.
  • These visa programmes are mandated by the legislature and are widely used by Indian IT companies to place skilled workers in the US.
  • Trump has signed an executive order to enforce and review the H-1B visa programme.
What does the new H1B reform bill propose?
  • The new H1B visa reform bill proposes a radical overhaul of the process, increasing the minimum salary for visa holders to be $130,000, more than double the current minimum.
  • This would mean that companies would have to either pay rather highly for the skilled workers, or not choose foreign employees in favour of American citizens.
  • The new visa reform bill also eliminates the category of lowest pay, and raises the salary level at which H1B dependent employer are exempt from non-displacement and recruitment attestation requirements to greater than $130,000.
  • The H1B visa bill removes the ‘per country’ cap for employment-based immigrant visas. It sets aside 20% of the annually allocated H1B visas for small companies and startup employers (50 or fewer employers) to ensure small businesses have an opportunity to compete for high-skilled workers.
Why Trump doing this?
  • These changes are aimed at fulfilling his campaign pledges to put “America First”.
  • H-1B visa programme is accused of taking away jobs from Americans. Also, Trump wants a more merit-based way of giving visas to highly skilled workers instead of the present lottery system.
Why these steps are a cause of concern for India?
  • A sizeable chunk of the applicants are Indians.
  • Indian students migrating to the states for pursuing a higher degree and tech companies that send their workers on off-site projects will be among the most affected by the changes to the visa policy.
  • It will lead to a decrease in interest in students flocking to American universities, thereby minimising the brain drain.