US move to hit India with cap on H-1B visa will come as a kick in the guts


NEW YORK – India is set to become the most populated country on Earth, by 2027, with more than 1.4 billion people, surpassing China, whose population growth will decline, according to new UN figures. The Trump administration seems to be putting into place restrictions to allow only a miniscule fraction of that burgeoning Indian population emigrate to the US, going by a report to put country caps on the H-1B visa.

If a report put out by Reuters, citing unidentified US administration officials, come to pass, then the likely influx of some 45,000-50,000 skilled Indian workers annually through the H-1B work visa, will be whittled down to a meager 10%-15% of the total 85,000 H-1B visa up for grabs. That includes 20,000 H-1B visas kept aside only for international students with a post graduate degree from accredited educational institutions in the US.

In 2017, India accounted for 75% of approved H-1B visa applications. China was a distant second, accruing less than 10% of those visas which help foreign workers and family members get a foot in the door to permanent residency, and eventual citizenship.

Leave aside the growing bitter feud between the US and India over trade, tariffs and localization of data issues – the latter being at the core of the new tit for tat game. India hawks may argue that the brash move could help her in the long run with more business being outsourced to their shores by desperate multinationals starved of worker talent; curb brain drain.

For now, the harsh reality is that the shrewd US move would surely come as a kick in the guts for India, if it becomes law. Going by past precedent, if India does not adhere to what Trump wants it to do, then in all likelihood this could become the new normal in visa rules. Or at least, has a chance to be so, after a legal battle in courts.

It’s not just the issue of loss of tens of millions of dollars of remittances for India, at least in US Dollars. It’s nagging, sapping feeling of betrayal by President Trump, who has touted India as a ‘great country’ and Prime Minister Modi as a ‘good friend’ of his.

Really, ‘friends’ do this to bolster closer ties or settle disputes?!

The new move also goes against the rationality of immigration reforms promised by Trump which champion skill and merit for entry into the US, to the detriment of family ties immigration.

While India will not be the only country to be targeted with country caps on work visas by the Trump administration, the fact of the matter is that some of the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visa are non-Caucasian folks from around the world, with majority from Asia.

In January of last year, Trump had ruminated, according to media reports, as to “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” in reference to immigration protections for Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations. The President suggested that more people from countries like Norway should be admitted to the US.

Well, one thing’s for sure: the H-1B visa caps and new restrictions on the diversity visa lottery introduced recently should go a long way in eliminating some of the non-Norwegian folks from settling into White suburban neighborhoods.

While Indian government officials have responded saying they have yet to be officially apprised of the situation by their US counterparts, Stuart Anderson, the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan public policy research organization focusing on trade, immigration and related issues based in Arlington, Virginia, writing in Forbes, pointed out that legally the move to put country caps on H-1B visa would present a challenge, but Trump could muscle it through courts like he had his way with the travel ban on certain Muslim countries.

“It is possible the administration is considering use of the same authority that allowed the travel ban,” William Stock, a founding member of Klasko Immigration Law Partners, told Anderson. He noted that Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act allows the President to define a category of foreign nationals and suspend their entry into the country

New York-based attorney Cyrus Mehta, while of the opinion that the Trump administration “does not have the authority to discriminate against India,” agreed with Stock’s assumption that Section 212(f) could be invoked as reason for the action.

Mehta added of the likely move: “It will not apply to extensions and change of status to H-1B, such as from the status of an international student. Thus, the authority of Trump to use 212(f) is limited, and if he uses it, it can be challenged in federal court.”

What’s now obvious is the drive to curb legal immigration isn’t just targeted at the H-1B visa. Reports have come out increase in scrutiny and denial of the visa, and visa extensions. In the pipeline is the move to end work permits soon for tens of thousands of skilled H-4 visa holders.

Also, at crossroads are tens of thousands of international students, ruing their decision to get an expensive education in the US, as their effort to get some work experience is being stymied by immigration authorities and under threat of total abolition by a Congressman from Arizona.

The Mercury News reported that Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar plans to introduce a bill soon to end the Optional Practical Training (OPT), a federal government program that lets foreign students work in the country for up to three years. It’s also an ideal pathway for an H-1B visa, once the company gauges a trainee’s talent and is willing to take them into their workforce.

In recent years, the OPT program surpassed the H-1B as the largest source of new temporary immigrant workers deemed to be highly skilled, according to the Pew Research Center.


Gosar’s proposed bill — first spotted by Bloomberg Law — would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to ban work under the OPT or any successor program without an act of Congress. His office said he also plans to send to President Donald Trump, within two weeks, a letter asking him to eliminate the OPT via executive order.

The title of Gosar’s proposed bill is a response to a bill introduced in February from the other side of the aisle, Gosar’s office said, reported the Mercury News. California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) sponsored the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019,” which would scrap the per-country cap on employment-based immigrants and increase the per-country limit for family-sponsored immigrants.

Pew found that between 2004 and 2016, almost 1.5 million foreign graduates of US colleges and universities have been allowed to work under the OPT, with 53 percent specializing in STEM fields.

It remains to be seen if Gosar has his way or not what with lack of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, and immigration reforms one of the toughest obstacles to agree upon.

For now, the bigger hazard for international students wanting to go on OPT is the delay in getting the required work permit in hand.

The Mercury News reported in another article that it’s taking up to five months for foreign college and university students to obtain OPT work permits, leading to reported loss of internship opportunities. The situation is complicated by the rule that OPT work permits can be requested for only 90 days before an internship date is to start.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration said this week that a “surge” in requests for the OPT has created a backlog and delays to the standard 90-day processing time. Wait times are running from four weeks to five months, the agency said.

“Students have written petitions and panicked letters to leaders of some of the top universities in the country as their internship start dates have come and gone with no word from the federal government,” the New York Times reported.

“Recent graduates of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism are pushing back start dates for internships and relying on their parents for day-to-day expenses. Students at Princeton have had job offers rescinded, and have been forced to return home for the summer. At Dartmouth College, students reported losing money they spent for housing and flights to live and work in other states. At Yale, students scrambled to enroll in a newly created course that would allow the university to approve their summer employment,” the Times noted.

Princeton University president Christopher L. Eisgruber and nearly 30 other New Jersey college and university leaders wrote to the state’s members of Congress, complaining that the OPT delays, visa delays and increased numbers of requests for evidence justifying H-1B visas were harming America’s economy, reported the Mercury News.

New strictures and tough visa rules by the Trump administration had already cut into international student enrollment in the last few years.

The Kansas City Star noted that the number of new international students getting F1 visa status to study in the US has plunged from 678,000 a year in 2015 to just 390,000 in 2018.

Those numbers could get a much bigger hit if the OPT is abolished or uncertainty follows over subsequent work experience. A major appeal of education in the US is the chance to work in America under the OPT. Snatch that away, and students the world over will look elsewhere for sure, like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, amongst English speaking countries.

Already, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been on an over drive to attract skilled workers and international students.

Politifact reported that in 2017, Canada admitted close to 286,500 permanent residents; about 159,300, or 56%, were under the “economic class” category. This category includes caregivers, entrepreneurs and other skilled workers. Family members represent about half of the economic category in recent years, according to a Migration Policy Institute analysis.

Australia’s Migration Program granted around 180,200 permanent residences in fiscal year 2016-17. About 124,000, or 68%, were under the ‘skill stream’ designation. Overall, Australia granted about 207,200 permanent residences. New Zealand too had a healthy rate of assimilation, and approved residence for close to 48,000 people in the 2016-17 fiscal year. About 29,000, or 60%, were under the “skilled/business” stream.

The point is that skilled workers from around the world, who are determined to work overseas, would find a way out to realize dreams. If not the US, then elsewhere.

The larger question is: if the US curbs immigration to the point where skilled workers shun it, for one reason or the other, for how long can they stay on top of the world order?

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)  



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