Modi, Trump and the H1B visa tipsheet ahead of June 26 summit meeting

H1B - the most controversial temporary work visa issued by the United States, is tipped to come up during the Modi-Trump summit. For Indian IT companies, the due diligence on H1B visas has never been this hard in all the years the visa has existed ( since 1990); for the Trump administration, the White House-led backlash against the H1B visa is just what the doctor ordered to keep Trump’s white voters angry and charged up.

It’s another matter entirely that Trump’s base - white, working class voters - are largely not techie types - yet the fiery rhetoric against H1B works well to confirm (their) long held biases against immigrants (fact check - the H1B is a non immigrant visa).

 Modi, Trump and the H1B visa tipsheet ahead of June 26 summit meeting

Narendra Modi and Donald Trump/ AFP and PTI

While the overarching view among policy wonks is that H1B remains big enough to figure in the summit meeting, some say no. "I'll be surprised if H1B comes up in this meeting. This is more for face to face connect and to check out Trump, really," says Dr. Sanjaya Baru, media adviser in former PM Manmohan Singh's government.

Yet, if H1B does surface, these are the pain points - scrubbed of jargon.

Gaming the H1B lottery - where some companies flood the system with 1000s of applications and get away with a lion’s share of allotted H1Bs.
Wages being paid to H1B workers - Critics, including the White House claim that almost 80% of H1B workers are being paid less than median salary and therefore stealing jobs from Americans who pass up these low paying jobs.
Qualifications and skills - Critics argue that bulk of H1B workers have baseline qualifications or sometimes not even that. Priority should be given to Masters degree holders. (Already 20,000 H1B visas per year are allotted to those who have a Masters’ degree from American colleges.)

Loopholes are being plugged, it’s easier than ever to report fraud and abuse and in the nearly three decades since it came into force, the H1B visa has never been skewered as it is now. The assault is being carried out via three flanks - the Justice Department, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and Department of Homeland Security.

Every angle of the story that matters to employers, workers and policy analysts is here.

Below is a blow-by-blow account of the crucial screw tightening measures from early January this year:

1. H1B refusals spike well before Trump inauguration
There are altogether three kinds of outcomes for US visa applicants — approval, rejection and refusal under 221 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This third outcome is what keeps the legal wonks at body shopping companies in the US terribly busy. By early 2017 itself, these refusals had begun going north, well before any of the White House led soundbites on H1B. Once there’s a 221 (g) refusal, it can take many months or years for a final decision. For workers in the IT consulting, these kinds of refusals have returned big time and Trump has nothing to do with it. Closer scrutiny is always possible under any administration basis complaints to the Department of Labor that oversees the H1B worker visas.

2. Multiple bills introduced in Congress this year aiming to plug H1B loopholes.
In less than a week of Trump taking over as President, Senator Chuck Grassley moved the “H-1B and L-1 Visa Reforms Bill”, to prioritise American workers in job-recruitments and limit H1B visas per company. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren introduced the “High Skilled Integrity and Fairness Bill of 2017” seeking to fix a minimum wage of $130,000 for H1B workers and next Congressman Jason Chaffetz and Senator Mike Lee introduced the “Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017” which puts a cap on the number of immigrants per country, based on first-come-first-serve.

3. Freeze on premium processing from April 3, 2017
H1B workers cannot push through extensions at a faster pace for a higher (premium) payout. H1B visas are stamped for an initial period of 3 years with option to extend for a further 3 years.

4. Trump puts H4 visa holders on thin ice, their work authorization in spotlight.

5. A new email ID - - is headlining the US Homeland Security watchdog’s homepage and has already had its desired effect on IT body shops who have spent the last decade poring over the US visa forms for gaps via which the lifespan of the H1B visa can be stretched to the limit.

6. White House accuses Indian outsourcing giants of gaming H1B lottery, puts Infosys, Cognizant and TCS on notice.

7. Trump administration attacks minimum wage dodge on L1 visas.

8. Infosys plan to hire 10,000 US workers douses H1B heat. Here are deeper details of Vishal Sikka's hiring blueprint.

9. The fallout of extreme vetting on H1B - Cognizant lays off workers, sparking protests in India.

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Updated Date: Jun 14, 2017 16:22:11 IST

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