Beaten and bruised, the H1B visa survives a year on Planet Trump

The H1B visa has not changed. The H1B visa has become a nightmare.

Both statements are accurate, depending on which side of the immigration queue you’re on.

In the one year since Trump pulled off a shock win in the US elections riding on a anti-establishment wave, H1B workers have come under sustained scrutiny like never before.

The H1B is an employment-based, non-immigrant category visa that allows US companies to temporarily recruit foreign workers in 'speciality' occupations. Indian companies account for the lion's share of the 85,000 H1B visas issued every year.

Beaten and bruised, the H1B visa survives a year on Planet Trump

File image of Donald Trump. AP

What’s new in the first year of Trump is this - that the threat to the H1B worker and the visa is no longer about policy, this most painstakingly regulated of all US work visas has become a successful pin up for the culture wars being ignited by Trump.

In a year of zero movement on his most ambitious legislations - on medical insurance and tax reform, the H1B hit job has been a success because the Trump’s government does not have to plod through Congressional approval for every crumb.

Whether it’s the H1B visa or the corresponding spouse visa the H4, a series of incremental curveballs have sent the lion’s share of H1B workers into a state of perpetual anxiety.

Take for example the H4 visa. Barack Obama pushed through a legislation allowing certain categories of spouses of H1B workers to get their employment authorisation. Soon after Trump took office, the H4 visa has been put on thin ice, the concessions are at risk of being pulled.

Not a single law has changed, not a single legislation has raced through the US Congress but H1B workers are sweating. They are infinitely more careful, they are putting off travel plans, their paperwork is more thorough, many of the robotic steps of their visa processing have now become hard knuckle face-to-face interviews.

In the nearly 30 years since its birth in 1990, the H1B visa has come in for maximum flogging in the first year of President Trump.

The H1B has long been a bone of contention from both sides so none of the issues are new, the volume and the drama certainly is.

In the last 365 days, the H1B has figured on high end prime time television shows like CBS 60 minutes, an hour long background briefing at the White House, it is the subject of a three pronged assault by multiple arms of the US Government - Department of Justice, Homeland Security and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

One of Trump’s long time buddies Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is overseeing a wide ranging review of everything under the sun that can be categorised as Buy American Hire American. It’s a long rope to hang wrongdoers with.

Even the H1B review is open ended. “In order to promote the proper functioning of the H-1B visa program, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, as soon as practicable, suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”

During the “as soon as practicable” time period, which began in April this year, a lot of screws have already been tightened.

Although it’s popular to paint this as a Trump-led hammering, that’s not accurate.

Many of the rejections basis insufficient paperwork began well before Trump entered the White House.

That Trump chooses to go after immigration horror stories ties into the remarkable consistency he has shown in setting a match to the cultural tinder boxes that fire up his base. Trump got elected on this stuff, it’s the stuff he knows how to talk about.

The anti-H1B visa rant is an emblem of everything Trump stands for and is successful at - outrage as policy.

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Updated Date: Oct 30, 2017 23:04:49 IST

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