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Roving Periscope: Biden lets Trump’s H-1B visa ban expire

Roving Periscope: Biden lets Trump’s H-1B visa ban expire

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Virendra Pandit 

New Delhi: Starry-eyed Indians and others, particularly IT professionals, can now heave a sigh of relief: their work travels to the USA, preparatory to a possible migration, have been made easier by President Joe Biden.

On Thursday, he let a June 2020 executive order banning the issuance of new non-immigrant worker visas expire. The order, signed by his predecessor Donald Trump, had barred the entry of eligible work visa holders for 60 days until August 2020, which later was extended until March 31, 2021.

In June last year, Trump had barred the entry of H-1B and other foreign work visa holders, citing it as necessary to save the jobs of Americans who had lost their work due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

The Trump order had said that these US workers had been “hurt through no fault of their own due to coronavirus and they should not remain on the side-lines while being replaced by new foreign labor”.

“With some exceptions, we should not permit large numbers of foreign workers to enter the United States at a time when so many Americans are out of work,” the White House had said.

The H-1B visa is most popular among all the categories of temporary non-immigrant visas provided to foreign workers. The other important categories are the L-1 and the H-2B visas. The H-1B visas are mostly issued to highly-skilled workers in the information technology sector. And most of them have, over the last few decades, have been Indian IT professionals employed either with companies or as independent contractors.

The H-1B and other work visas have often drawn flak for allowing relatively cheaper labor in the US at the expense of its local workforce. But they also proved beneficial to the US which attracted relatively inexpensive but highly-skilled and trained workers.

Trump’s order was condemned by global IT companies, industry bodies, and other global technology captains including Alphabet and Google Inc. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sundar Pichai, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and others who said that the H-1B visa regimes had a net positive impact on the US economy.

“Immigration has contributed immensely to America’s economic success, making it a global leader in technology, and also Google the company it is today. Disappointed by today’s proclamation – we’ll continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all,” Pichai had tweeted.

Industry captains had been asking Biden to reverse the visa ban and allow them to hire new workers.

The US government issues 85,000 H-1B visas annually. Of this, 65,000 H-1B visas go to highly-skilled foreign workers, while the remaining 20,000 can be additionally allotted to highly-skilled foreign workers having a higher education or master’s degree from an American university.

Over the last few decades, Indian IT companies have been among the biggest beneficiaries of the US H-1B visa regime. Since the 1990s, they have cornered a lion’s share of the total number of visas issued each year. Over the last few years, however, most Indian companies have reduced their dependence on work visas like H-1B and L-1, but they still remain popular among Indian workers.

The H-1B visas are generally approved for an initial period of three years, but many visa holders change employers to extend their US stay. IT companies, both Indian and global, hire from this pool of H-1B visa approved workers to already present in the US to keep their costs in check. Such workers are often hired by the companies as sub-contractors, media reported.

With the Trump order expiring on Thursday, all the H-1B visa holders who had been impacted by the travel ban will now be free to go back to the US and resume their work as independent contractors as well. This, in turn, will mean the availability of a greater workforce for the IT companies.

The expiry of the Trump order would enable the US diplomatic missions overseas to issue fresh worker visas, thereby allowing even the US-based IT companies to start hiring foreign talented workers again.


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