While there’s much ado in the media over how a new executive order being announced by the White House on buying American goods and hiring Americans over foreign workers, Indian companies operating in the U.S. appear less concerned over the possible consequences to the H-1B visa. For years they have been combating efforts by some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to change the H-1B visa requirements, which if successful, would target them in particular. They just want a level playing field.
President Trump’s order being announced during his visit to a Snap-on Tools company in Kenosha, Wisconsin April 18, basically calls on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to examine the existing rules prioritizing “buy American” as well as assess the implementation of the hiring of foreign workers, including those who come under the high-skilled H-1B category.
Ross has to submit a report by Thanksgiving on whether American workers are being sidelined by hiring foreign workers at a lower wage. And it calls on the State Department, and the departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security, to suggest reforms.
Indians are the largest users of the H-1B (70 percent of the 65,000 annual quota). Over the last decade, the significant number of them have extended their H-1B visas, and swelled the ranks of the backlog for Green Cards by close to 900,000 according to some estimates from organizations like Immigration Voice, an advocacy group for immigrant skilled workers largely from India.
The Washington Post reported senior White House officials saying 80 percent of H1-B workers are paid less than the average wage for their job, and that will be the aspect on which Ross’ report will focus. The IT companies, including the largest ones like Facebook or Google, and Indian outsourcing companies like Infosys and Wipro operating here, have long argued they are unable to find equally trained Americans.
Senior White House officials briefing the press emphasized that the EO calls for “the strict enforcement of all laws governing entry into the United States of labor from abroad for the stated purpose of creating higher wages and higher employment rates for workers in the United States,” Reuters reported. It is meant to crack down on “fraud and abuse” in the immigration system, and sounds similar to the early April announcement by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service that it was stepping up scrutiny of the H-1B visa among others.
According to the Washington Post, “The officials said reform could first come through administrative changes, such as raising the visa application fees, adjusting the wage scale to more accurately reflect prevailing salaries in the tech industry, and more vigorously enforcing violations. It could also change the lottery system to give foreigners with U.S. master’s degrees a leg up.”
The April 18 EO requires various departments to propose reforms to ensure H1-Bs are awarded to the most skilled, and the “leg up” to Masters students already in the U.S., would favor Indian students at U.S. higher education institutions.
“Companies that are complying with the letter of the law are not worried,” Ron Somers, former head of the U.S. – India Chamber of Commerce, told News India Times, speaking about the USCIS announcement which preceded but mirrors the EO of April 18 in some areas.
“Also, we have been hearing that there are those abusing the (H-1B) program,” said Somers, who runs the business consulting firm, India First Group.
Sumani Dash, spokesperson for the Confederation of Indian Industry-USA, echoed Somers views. The USCIS announcement she said, meant that there would be more audits, “Which was already happening under the Obama administration.”
One of the provisions clarified both by the USCIS announcement, and the latest EO from Trump, is that entry-leel computer programmers do not qualify under H-1B. The CII recently led a week-long Capitol Hill lobbying effort, meeting several key lawmakers, including co-chairs of the India Caucus, and also Commerce Secretary Ross, and other key policymakers in the current administration.
“Everyone walked away comfortable that all this can be worked out,” Dash said. “We all agree we need high tech support; that there’s a lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) resources here: we have to get people from elsewhere – the reality of the need for specialty occupations,” Dash added.
“We certainly conveyed some concerns Indian companies faced on high skills (area). And our request is that whatever change is made, should be applied in a level playing field,” Dash added. That is in part a reference to efforts by some lawmakers on the Hill to introduce legislation that has the effect of targeting Indian companies operating in the U.S., slamming high fees for any hires they make.