H-1B visa extensions to continue: USCIS

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NEW YORK – The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has clarified that the Trump Administration has no plans to end extension for H-1B visa holders whose petition for Green Card has been accepted, as was reported earlier.

The clarification by USCIS will come as a huge relief for hundreds of thousands of H-1B visa holders, and for those visa holders who are now in an advanced stage of their Green Card petitions.

Earlier, the Trump Administration had reportedly floated a memo in the Department of Homeland Security to gauge if it was viable to reinterpret the “may be given” clause when it comes to renewing the initial term of the H-1B visa, which is for three years, up to a maximum of six years.  After six years, extensions are given, usually in two-year increments, to those visa holders whose petitions for Green Card has been accepted.

The reported memo outlined a proposal where H-1B visa holders, whose Green Card petitions has been accepted, to ‘self-deport’ from the US till the time they got permanent residency. The intention was to throw open those jobs for American citizens. An estimated 500,000-750,000 visa workers would have been impacted by the draconian move, if it had been enacted.

“…USCIS is not considering a regulatory change that would force H-1B visa holders to leave the United States by changing our interpretation of section 104(c) of AC-21, which provides for H-1B extensions beyond the 6 year limit. Even if it were, such a change would not likely result in these H-1B visa holders having to leave the United States because employers could request extensions in one-year increments under section 106(a)-(b) of AC21 instead,” said Jonathan Withington, Chief of Media Relations at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), in a statement.

“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 programs,” he added.

Immigration Voice, an advocacy group fighting for the rights of skilled visa workers in the US, including to remove country caps on workers from India for permanent residency, expressed satisfaction at the USCIS clarification.

“We are ECSTATIC to share this Breaking News,” it said in a post on its Facebook page, on Monday night. “USCIS has announced to us that it is retracting its policy to deny all H-1B visa through (beyond) year 6 based on section 104. This is a GREAT development. And we thank USCIS to make (for making) the right decision,” it said.

“Immigration Voice members should however remain alert and remain active in pushing for bill H.R.392 because UCSIS will not stop in looking for reasons to deny individual renewal applications. We have been able to prevent the blanket denial but there is expected to be uptick in the individual case denial. USCIS retraction statement specifically said that it will not issue blanket H-1B denials based on section 104, but it has not commented on the very high rate of denial for the individual cases. This is a proof that when immigration community comes in together to advocate for sane policies, it results in a success. We need to do the same thing with the bill H.R.392,” said Immigration Voice.

McClathchy Bureau, which had first reported the memo in the DHS to ‘self-deport’ H-1B visa workers, in a report on Tuesday, January 9, said: “Under intense pressure from the business and technology communities, the Trump administration appears to be backing away from a policy change that could have forced foreign tech workers out of the country,” adding that despite what USCIS said, “the agency reversed course on that proposal.

“…multiple sources with direct knowledge of the conversations inside the department said that was not true, and that the administration had shifted over the last two weeks in response to the swift and harsh reaction from the business community,” the report said.

Credit also goes to the bipartisan effort of Democrat Congresswoman from Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard, and Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican, who sent a joint letter to President Donald Trump, urging him “not to deport H-1B holders awaiting permanent residency processing.”

“We strongly believe this action would be harmful to the American economy, credibility, and relations with India and the Indian-American community,” wrote Yoder and Gabbard on Friday. Both are members of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

Earlier, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had warned it would be “tremendously bad policy” to tell highly skilled people they are not welcome to stay in the United States.

Groups that represent Indian companies and workers — such as the National Association of Software and Services Companies, Immigration Voice and Compete America — started deploying lobbyists and other representatives at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to argue against possible regulatory changes that could prevent foreign tech industry workers from keeping their visas longer than six years, according to U.S. and India-based industry sources and worker advocates familiar with the plans, reported McClatchy.

The administration’s decision to drop consideration of the policy shift was met with cheers by foreign-worker representatives.

“This a major accomplishment for everyone who came together to express their outrage about a cruel and vindictive policy proposal,” said Leon Fresco, who served as a deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department in the Obama administration and who now represent H-1B workers.

The McClatchy report also shed some new light on an upcoming ruling on the H-4 visa work permit, or EAD for some spouses of H-1B visa workers.

“Citing a proposal to eliminate the work authorization for the spouses of H-1B workers, one industry source said the Trump team was already taking steps to make the program so burdensome that it could potentially accomplish the same goal even if regulations are not changed,” the report said, indicating that even if the Trump Administration did not outright take away the EAD, they would in all likelihood impose tough new rules which would make it hard to qualify for one.

“They’re trying to encourage these people to leave our country,” the source said, according to the McClatchy report.

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