Shalabh Kumar assures Trump will not take Executive Action on H-1B visa workers. But what about H4 and F1 visa holders?


White House

NEW YORK: Illinois-based entrepreneur Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar, an Indian-American donor with close ties to the Trump administration, and who has got effusive praise from President Donald Trump for campaigning to get Hindu votes out for the Republican Party, has dismissed a slew of rumors of an imminent Executive Action to curb the prospects of H-1B workers in the US.

“There will be need of more H-1B visas. The number of people on H-1B from India is certainly going to increase,” Kumar, the founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition, told reporters at a news conference, in Washington, DC, on Wednesday.

Kumar, who is in contention to be the next US Ambassador to India, tried to allay fears that the White House and Trump will put out damning orders which would harm the chances of skilled Indian workers who plan to emigrate to the US. On the contrary, he claimed, as the US economy gets stronger, it would need more workers, especially in the IT arena.

Kumar, however, did support cleaning up the H-1B visa system, which has seen several cases of systemic fraud by top Indian IT service companies, as well as middlemen in the system.

In the past week, several reports based on ‘leaked’ documents from the White House circles have surfaced, which suggest Trump is assessing how to best frame an Executive Order to ensure that American citizens and legal workers in the US get priority first in hiring. He has also spoken about rampant visa fraud and abuse by companies who use H-1B visa, and L-1 visa workers, on the campaign trail.

However, reports by The Wall Street Journal, Vox and Bloomberg News, based on some ‘leaked’ documents that were circulated within the White House, which seemed to be framing how best to go about issuing an Executive Order to curb legal immigration, made it clear that the Trump administration wants to target H-1B visa workers. And worse, there’s reasonable concern that this may also expand to spouses of H-1B workers, on the H4 visa. In May, 2015, some H4 visa holders were allowed to apply for Employment Authorization Card (EAD). The EAD allows the recipient to work without any restrictions.

The White House press secretary Sean Spicer sounded an ominous warning at a press briefing on Monday: “With respect to H1-Bs and other visas, it’s part of a larger immigration reform effort that the president will continue to talk about through executive order and through working with Congress.”

Spicer mentioned spouses too: “Whether it’s that or the spousal visa or other types of visas I think there’s an overall need to look at all these programs,” he said.

To another query, Spicer added: “You’ll see both through executive action and through comprehensive legislative measures a way to address immigration as a whole and the visa program.”

Read a previous story on H4 visa holders here:

The issue of restrictions on visa holders is of real concern.

Kumar is probably right that Trump may not pass any Executive Action on H-1B visa workers. The reason for that is simple enough: there is bipartisan support to curb the influx of cheap labor from India by IT outsourcing companies like Infosys, TCS and others. Legislators are keen to make it a level playing field for American and legal workers in the US. Two bills, by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, and Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren, both from California, want to raise the minimum salary threshold and include a Master’s degree for new H-1B workers – to as much as $130,000. That, if implemented, would see applications for H-1B workers, plummet. The minimum salary requirement for an IT worker on an H-1B visa, at present, is $60,000.

However, the question that comes up is what would be the fate of existing H-1B workers, especially those who make less than six figures. Going forward, would their petitions for extension of work visa, and also Green Card, be accepted?

And, importantly, while Trump may not hit out against H-1B workers for now, knowing that it’s in the pipeline anyway and might soon become law in Congress, he could target the H4 visa workers who have an EAD, and also F1 visa students, some of whom in the STEM fields have 36 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT). Some of the leaked documents suggest that Trump might cut that OPT time from three years to only 12 months.

That would be devastating for students who graduate and then look to see if they can get sponsorship for H-1B visa, and then stay on in the US. For example, if they graduate in May, then within a year they would have to get a company to sponsor them, and even so, would have to leave the country, without knowing if they get approved or not. The filing season for H-1B workers start April 1. Approved workers begin work in August/September.

It’s important that Kumar, who has close ties to Trump, guide and give suggestions to the administration, to not harm the chances of H4 visa holders to work and thrive in this country. If an EAD is taken away, it could mean thousands of families suffering financially, mortgages going asunder, wilting of relationships, family strife.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Write to him: Follow him on twitter @SujeetRajan1)