RED CARD

Trump may deport thousands of Indian H-1B visa holders as they wait for green cards

Quartz india
Quartz india

US president Donald Trump’s administration is reportedly considering a proposal that could lead to the deportation of thousands of Indians and drastically impact Indian IT business.

According to an internal memo circulated in the department of homeland security, the US government could ask workers with H-1B visas to leave the country while they wait for pending green cards to come through, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported.

If the proposal goes through, it could put the visa status of between 500,000 and 750,000 Indians in jeopardy, sending them back home abruptly.

The H-1B visa, granted to highly-skilled workers, is typically issued for three years, with an option to extend it for another three. But H-1B holders who are on the green card route are allowed to renew their work visas indefinitely.

“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 source briefed by homeland security officials told US news service McClatchy. This is in line with the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order that Trump signed in April 2017 with the promise of bringing jobs back to the country.

The agency is “considering a number of policy and regulatory changes” to carry out that order, a spokesman for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services told Quartz, “including a thorough review of employment based visa programs.”

Indians make for a large chunk of the green card applicants in the US, far exceeding the per country annual cap on the number of permanent residencies and, thus, creating a huge backlog. In fact, the procedure to get a green card can stretch upwards of 12 years for Indian applicants.

“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 back to India or their home countries, they need to start again,” Alka Dhingra, general manager for IT staffing at TeamLease Services, told Quartz. “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.”

Ticking bomb

The H-1B visa has been a key to realising the “American dream” for thousands of Indians over many decades. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella both built their careers in the US riding on this visa.

But since taking office in January last year, Trump has been cracking down on the H-1B.

In April, the government temporarily halted the premium processing for the H-1B, wherein visa applications are cleared within 15 days for an additional fee, compared to the standard procedure that takes between three and six months. Also, the H-1B application for computer programmers was rejigged and the evaluation process made more stringent.

This reported move to deny visa extensions to green-card applicants is likely a part of the clampdown.

“Individually, the steps may not seem too onerous but cumulatively, they have a significant impact. This one seems particularly significant,” R Chandrasekhar, president of India’s IT industry trade body Nasscom, told the Economic Times newspaper on Jan. 03. “If you do not have an extension on the visa, even if you have a pending green card application, you will have to leave the country.”

The move could deal a major blow to Indian firms like Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, and Wipro, which are among the top five recipients of H-1B visas and heavily dependent on sending Indian engineers to the US.

While they have increased hiring in the US in recent years, most of their workforce remains Indian. The visa restrictions will force them to intensify local hiring, hiking their costs sharply.

Moreover, finding talent is a challenge as America’s tech industry battles a skills gap.

“Trump’s America First agenda and focus on curbing immigration, especially around H-1B visa policies, will hurt,” Vineet Nayyar, vice-chairman of outsourcing firm Tech Mahindra, said on a company earnings call last May. “We all will have to realign our business models to the new reality.”

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