NEW YORK – It was bound to happen, what with the Trump Administration’s tough line of approach to skilled immigrants, both at home, and those eager to call it home. The H-1B visa petitions plunged to a lower number than last year, with only 190,098 petitions received by the USCIS for the 85,000 work visas up for grabs.
A lottery has determined recipients, though that would be minor consolation for some, if USCIS asks for more evidence, ponders, without a fixed timeframe, whether to give the visa or not.
Recent rules by the Trump Administration, including, tougher vetting of work visas, requiring onerous paperwork by companies and individuals to prove eligibility and to ensure non-displacement of American workers, and case-by-case basis analysis to issue anywhere from a 1-year to a 3-year visa, is also likely to result in a higher rate of rejections this year.
Last year, the number of petitions for H-1B visa had dropped down to 199,000, the first year since President Trump took over office in the White House, and the first time since 2014 when it fell below the 200,000 mark. In the last two years of the Obama Administration, 233,000 petitions were received in 2015, and 236,000 in 2016.
So, what does this mean for the US?
No doubt, the US is facing at present a huge shortage of skilled workers, especially in the technology sector. But a drop in H-1B visa petitions doesn’t signify much. It could, on the contrary, help the US in several ways.
First, the tough H-1B visa rules would weed out and minimize workers sponsored by India-based services and outsourcing companies like Infosys, TCS and Wipro. For years, the practice by these companies of using Indian workers on a rotation basis for projects in the US – almost like unskilled agricultural workers used seasonally by crop growers in California – had caused tremendous friction for American workers. Some American workers were displaced too, by tactics like ‘knowledge transfer’.
There have also been several reports of abuse of the H-1B program by companies who exploited the loopholes in the system.
That would be hard to do now, under the new set of USCIS rules which require sponsors to detail specific work assignment, including location. It’s likely there would be a high rate of rejections of H-1B visa for Indian outsourcing companies this time around.
The benefit to the US: top Indian outsourcing companies are forced to hire locally in the US, create more jobs here. The practice of ‘knowledge transfer’ will be reduced, though it’s likely to continue because of the bottom line.
Secondly, the breakdown has not yet been revealed by the USCIS, but it’s likely that petitions for the 20,000 visas set aside for international students who graduate with a master’s degree from accredited educational institutions in the US, are higher than last year, or even breached the fixed mark.
Now, if that happens, then those who fail to get a visa within the 20,000 limit have another shot in the general 65,000 visa. This is good, not only for international students, who really deserve to stay in the US if they secure a job offer, but also for educational institutions in the US.
For students in India who plan to pursue higher education in the US, this is actually a good time to make that come true.
Some fields, like technology, have hundreds of thousands of job openings in the US. For students who graduate with a STEM degree, chances of getting a job is brighter if concurrently, the number of petitions for an H-1B visa by foreign workers decline. For many US universities, their lifeline is international students, and the hefty tuition they pay, which help to sustain programs and faculties. They will get a boost in international applications if more graduates get an H-1B visa.
Thirdly, new rules by the USCIS indicate their spotlight is on companies who try to ‘game’ the system, not those who genuinely need skilled workers to expand business, fill in specialized positions. Thus, skilled workers with a good resume and job experience should not have that many hurdles to getting a work visa if selected by the lottery system.
It’s also a good time for skilled workers to emigrate to the US. Most proposed immigration legislation on Capitol Hill is looking to expedite the green card process for skilled workers, reduce the inflow of family-based immigration.
The US will benefit from giving work visas to skilled immigrants who secure high paying jobs. They will not be hesitant about putting their roots down in the US. Similarly, young graduates who are assured of getting permanent residency will be more prone to start entrepreneurial ventures, create more jobs.
It will help the economy flow along at the healthy rate it’s going at.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)