US to review work authorisation for spouses of H-1B visa holders: Too early to say if it will impact Indian tech professionals, say industry experts

The latest move to review work authorisation for certain categories of H-1B foreign work visas is unlikely to impact Indian techies at least for now. The White House has formally received the proposed changes in the existing regulations. It will carry out its review of the proposed regulation, take inputs from various agencies, before taking a final call. The entire process could take from a few weeks to several months.

US President Donald Trump who campaigned on an "America First" platform of favouring Americans for hiring has remained true to his promise by putting in jeopardy jobs and lives of IT professionals from across the world.

The fate of 90,000 spouses is in a delicate balance until then, of which a  majority are Indian professionals. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialised fields. Under the H-1B visa programme, US-based companies hire highly skilled foreign workers, up to a maximum of 85,000 a year. Of these 65,000 are hired from abroad and 20,000 from foreign nationals studying in the US.

The Indian IT sector received around 16 percent of the 65,000 visas issued last year. The sector gets over 80 percent of its revenues from the US and Europe while the remaining comes from Asia and the domestic market.

Who will be impacted

The proposed change will impact those who are on low paid jobs and work at places like departmental stores, for instance. The move could hurt body shops that misuse the system, industry veteran TV Mohandas Pai said. The spouses of highly educated tech professionals from India (only they get the opportunity to work abroad) usually have spouses who are equally or more qualified.

US to review work authorisation for spouses of H-1B visa holders: Too early to say if it will impact Indian tech professionals, say industry experts

Representational image. Reuters

"President Trump says there are enough talented people available in the US, which is not the case. There is an enormous shortage of people," said Pai.

Indian nationals are in demand in the US because of the skills they have, said an IT analyst. The Indian IT industry is a net creator of jobs in the US and supports nearly half a million jobs in the US, in addition to which Indians work with 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies. A lot of them being US companies, we help them grow and create jobs in the US, the sector specialist said.

Monster, a global online employment solution quoted a survey on its site on talent shortage in the US. According to IT outsourcer Harvey Nash and auditing firm KPMG's CIO survey 2018 conducted with over 3,000 technology leaders, 65 percent  said that hiring challenges are hurting the industry, against 59 percent the previous year.

The demand for talented professionals is a long-standing need in the US, emphasised Pai. The issue, said Pai, is that no one wants to 'fight' with Trump on this issue. With hiring locally being made mandatory in the US, many Indian IT firms have started hiring locally but this has started to erode margins, he said. Primarily, because wages are higher as mandated by the employment rules in the US.

Nasscom, the IT industry body said earlier that to the extent US policy makes it more difficult and costlier for global IT service companies to provide their expertise in the US, it will weaken the US companies that depend on them to help fill their skills gaps. Contrary to what is intended, this action could put US jobs at risk and create pressure to send more IT work abroad, rather than performing it in the US, Nasscom pointed out, in the context of the Trump government's proposal in December for H-1B visa seeking firms to electronically register their petitions in advance.

Trump is looking at the low-hanging fruit, said Kris Laxmikanth, chairman and managing director, The Head Hunters India - a CXO-level hiring firm. He said that those spouses working at low-cost jobs may be impacted where a local can be hired. However, large US companies like Google, for instance, are expanding to India and hiring Indians here. "A H-1B visa is a lottery anyway and is not a guarantee of a permanent stay in the US. Organisations don't want lotteries and rather have clear policies that do not disrupt businesses," he pointed out.

It is too early to say how the proposed latest move by the Trump government will impact Indian IT professionals in the US though. Harish HV, sector specialist, said there is already a large population in the US working on a dependent visa. "Will this newly proposed move impact them or is it only for new applicants? Those who have been living in the US for some time now would face disruptions in their lives if this rule applies to them as they have been working and taking care of their families on two incomes to buy a house, car, provide for their children's education, etc. As far as the rule applying to new applicants, it would be up to them to agree to go on an overseas assignment if the new rule comes to force. Maybe then many won't like to opt for US assignments. That would mean best talent in India would not be available for work in the US," he said.

Indians who have taken US citizenship after going to work there on H-1B visas will be the happiest with the Trump administration, says Lakshmikanth. "After working for a few years with the Indian software firms and getting US citizenship, they have preferred to work as contract labour as it fetches them $150-$200 per hour. They will be happy with the Hire American policy of Trump," he said.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2019 15:50:48 IST

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