VISA CLAM­P­DOWN VIA H4

India Today - - UPFRONT - —Geeta Mo­han

Hyper-na­tion­al­ism begets anti-out­sider sen­ti­ment, which has made vic­tims of ‘im­mi­grants’ in many na­tions. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who came to power on his pro­tec­tion­ist ‘Amer­ica First’ agenda, has been un­der im­mense pres­sure, ever since he came to power in 2017, to se­cure jobs for Amer­i­cans. In April 2017, Trump signed a ‘Buy Amer­i­can, Hire Amer­i­can’ ex­ec­u­tive or­der, which has served to jus­tify sev­eral re­cent changes in pol­icy vis-à-vis H1B visas, of which In­dia was al­ways a big ben­e­fi­ciary.

The lat­est blow is the move by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to put an end to H4 de­pen­dent visas that al­lowed spouses of H1B, or ‘high-skilled’, visa hold­ers to work in the US. Di­rec­tor of the United States Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices (USCIS) Fran­cis Cissna, in a three-page let­ter dated April 4 to the US Se­nate Judiciary Com­mit­tee, had pro­posed “reg­u­la­tory changes to re­move H4 de­pen­dent spouses from the class of aliens el­i­gi­ble for em­ploy­ment au­tho­ri­sa­tion”; the pro­posal has now been put into ac­tion.

In 2016, more than 41,000 H4 visa hold­ers were is­sued work au­tho­ri­sa­tion. By June this year, 36,000 more were to have been is­sued work per­mits. R. Chan­drashekhar, for­mer Nass­com pres­i­dent, says the move will make the H1B less at­trac­tive to In­dian pro­fes­sion­als “…es­pe­cially for fam­i­lies with two bread­win­ners, and that con­sti­tutes a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of pro­fes­sion­als from In­dia”.

Michael Kugel­man, se­nior as­so­ciate at the Woodrow Wil­son Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, fore­sees a sim­i­lar ef­fect of end­ing the H4 visa pro­gramme: “[it] will have a ma­jor im­pact on In­dian spouses… [and] cause com­pli­ca­tions for cor­re­spond­ing H1B visa hold­ers, and those want­ing to come to the US in fu­ture.” In­di­ans ac­count for more than half the 85,000 H1B visas cur­rently be­ing is­sued ev­ery year.

In March 2018, the USCIS sus­pended pre­mium pro­cess­ing of all H1B visa pe­ti­tions for fis­cal 2019, which will make ac­quir­ing visas a much more te­dious process. In the penul­ti­mate year of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s first term, when he is strug­gling to cre­ate jobs, the new rules could send back or keep at home a lot of young “high-skilled” work­ers. Chan­drashekhar points out how the pol­i­tics of the US move is at odds with even their own eco­nomic com­pul­sions: “US busi­nesses need these skilled pro­fes­sion­als. The em­ploy­ment of Amer­i­can high-skilled labour is al­most 100 per cent, yet there is a short­age of about 2 mil­lion STEM (sci­ence, technology, engi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics) pro­fes­sion­als, of which 1 mil­lion are from the IT/ com­puter sci­ence sec­tor.”

In­ter­est­ingly, while Modi and Trump have worked with great keen­ness in strate­gic ar­eas, there has been no syn­ergy on the eco­nomic front, be it the US visa pol­icy or trade talks. “Eco­nomic ties are the Achilles heel of US-In­dia re­la­tions,” says Kugel­man.

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