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H-1B visa curbs coming, says Donald Trump’s pick for US attorney general

US President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for the post of attorney general has assured lawmakers of taking steps towards pushing legislative measures to curb misuse of H-1B and L1 work visas significantly used by Indian IT professionals.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2017 12:12 IST
H-1B visas,Indian workers in US,Indian workers' visa
Senator Jeff Sessions waits for US President-elect Donald Trump (not visible) to exit his plane in Mobile, Alabama.(Reuters File Photo)

US President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for the post of attorney general has assured lawmakers of taking steps towards pushing legislative measures to curb misuse of H-1B and L1 work visas significantly used by Indian IT professionals.

“It’s simply wrong to think that we’re in a totally open world and that any American with a job can be replaced if somebody in the world is willing to take a job for less pay,” Senator Jeff Sessions told members of Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing for the position of US attorney general.

“We have borders. We have a commitment to our citizens and you have been a champion of that. I’ve been honoured to work with you on it,” Sessions said in response to a question from Senator Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

India is the largest single country source for H-1B hires, by both Indian firms operating in the US and American companies such as Cognizant, IBM and others. The Indian companies and their American partners will be hit the hardest with restrictions.

Under the H-1B visa programme, US-based companies hire highly skilled foreign workers, up to a maximum of 85,000 a year — 65,000 hired abroad and 20,000 from among foreign nationals studying in the US.

In the past, both Sessions and Grassley have worked together to bring legislations on H-1B visas that can badly hit Indian IT companies.

Read | As Trump readies to take over, Indian IT firms in huddle over H-1B visa plan

The Office of Special Counsel for immigration-related unfair employment practices is an office within the Justice Department, which would be headed by Sessions if he is confirmed by the US Senate.

The office enforces the anti-discrimination provisions of Immigration and Nationality Act.

Senator Jeff Sessions arrives to testify at his confirmation hearing to be attorney general of the US before the Senate Judiciary Committee. ( AFP Photo )

“While the office is designed to protect foreign nationals with employment visas from discrimination, it is also charged with ensuring that American workers are not discriminated against in the workplace.”

Many US workers advocate that the layoff of American workers and the replacement by cheaper, foreign, H-1B workers constitutes de facto nationality based discrimination against American workers,” Grassley said.

“The Obama administration has failed to protect American workers here. Will you, this is my question, will you be more aggressive in investigating the abuses of these visa programmes?” he asked.

Read | Bill against H1B visa back in US Congress: How will it affect India’s IT sector

“I believe this has been an abuse. And I have been pleased to support your legislation and some others too, that others have produced that I believe could be helpful. It needs to be addressed,” Sessions said.

Describing Sessions as a vocal champion for American workers, Grassley said many American workers are being laid off and replaced by cheaper foreign labour imported through some of the US visa programmes.

Sessions, Grassley and Senator Dick Durbin in the past had co-sponsored a bill that would reform H-1B visa programmes by ensuring that qualified American workers are considered for high skilled job opportunities before those jobs can be offered to foreign nationals.

“It also prohibit a company from hiring H-1B employees if they employ more than 50 people and more than 50% of their employees are H-1B or L1 visa holders,” he said.

Trump has listed immigration reform among five executive actions he plans to take on his first day in office. They include asking the Department of Labor to investigate “all abuses of the visa programmes that undercut the American worker”.

Bill on H-1B visas

A bill backing key changes in the H1-B programme that allows skilled workers from countries like India to fill high-tech jobs in the US has been re-introduced in the US Congress last week by two lawmakers who claim that it will help crack down on the work visa abuse.

The ‘Protect and Grow American Jobs Act’ that makes important changes to the eligibility requirements for H-1B Visa exemptions was re-introduced on January 5 by Republican Darrell Issa and Scott Peters – both from California.

Among other things, the bill aims to increase the minimum salary of H-1B visa to $100,000 per annum and eliminate the Masters Degree exemption.

Read | Infosys, TCS, Wipro stocks in focus as US plans tougher H1-B visa norms

First Published: Jan 12, 2017 09:14 IST